Julie Elliott MP

Standing up for Sunderland Central

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The announcement of a new medical school for Sunderland is excellent news for the city – but it’s not a silver bullet.

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I'll welcome our newly trained doctors in six years, however the government needs to be doing much more to address the problems facing our NHS now – both here and across the country.

My views were featured in the New Statesman this week. Read it below:

Sunderland University’s new medical school is set to open its doors in September next year, as part of the government’s expansion of medical training.

Our city will welcome 50 students in 2018 and 100 students in 2020, in a bid to boost the number of doctors in the North East. 

Sunderland won funding after taking part in a bidding contest against other applicants, recognising our track record of excellence in medical sciences and nursing education.

The development sends a clear signal that students don’t have to go to Newcastle or other cities for top-class medical training.

Our course will rival the best in the country, incorporating extensive exposure to real-life clinical settings, and students will benefit from stimulation suites located on site at the school’s Living Lab – an amazing state of the art facility at the university that is already used by Sunderland Royal Hospital and others for training purposes.

While our NHS in Sunderland has much to be proud of, with our Eye Infirmary and Children’s Centre acting as regional hubs, it’s no secret that we have problems attracting medical professionals.

This bold step forward seeks to change this, and to address the disappointing drift to the south of newly trained doctors.

Studies show that doctors tend to stay in the areas where they train, so we should be optimistic that our region will see more medical professionals to deliver high-quality care and ease the pressure on dedicated NHS staff who are already working in overstretched hospitals.

Our university has always played a crucial role in supporting our community thanks to the hard work of vice-chancellor Shirley Atkinson and Professor Scott Wilkes, and this new development is no exception.

Crucially, the school will specialise in GP and psychiatric training, complementing existing medical training in the region and addressing the chronic shortage of GPs in Sunderland and the wider North East.

Last month, I obtained government statistics revealing that the number of full-time GPs in our city has plummeted in the past few years, with numbers dropping by 25 per cent between 2013 and 2016.

This has left Sunderland with fewer than 140 full-time equivalent GPs to serve record numbers of people seeking help from GPs and A&E services.

The school will recruit hugely talented students from the communities in which they live and where they will eventually practice. The university and local council will work closely together to provide an environment conducive to retaining young doctors, creating a new generation of truly local GPs that understand the pressing issues faced by our region.

While this move is good news for Sunderland and the wider North East, the government needs to be doing much more to address the problems facing our NHS in Sunderland and across the country. It will be another six years before these extra doctors have the training they need to work in our community and hospitals, so the government needs to take much bolder immediate action. 

We need more support for those doctors already working in our hospitals who are inundated with record patient numbers. It’s clear that our hospitals cannot wait six years – our NHS needs proper government funding so that it can deliver the vital services and high-quality care that we all depend on.

 

New medical school welcome - but not a silver bullet

The announcement of a new medical school for Sunderland is excellent news for the city – but it’s not a silver bullet. I'll welcome our newly trained doctors in six...

A North East rail boss is finally to see for himself the faults and problems that have plagued Sunderland’s rundown station for years.

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I have spent many months attempting to galvanise Network Rail (NR), which owns the station, into action – as funding is desperately needed to transform the site.

Just this week the UK Powerhouse report – which ranks cities on their year-on-year growth – revealed that Sunderland had the sixth fastest growing economy last quarter.

However, despite our city benefiting from high levels of local investment in industry, road infrastructure and business support in recent months, our railway station remains sadly neglected.

I intend to point out just what is wrong with our station to Mr McIntosh – and state our case for a new station.

The old building dates to the 1960s and offers a terrible welcome to Sunderland. Sunderland City Council and Nexus have already committed £7.25million towards the costs of demolishing the current site and replacing it with a new concourse, public area and space for shops. 

That, however, leaves a funding gap of around £6million and it is time for NR to step up and help. It is possible that work could start as soon as the 2019/20 financial year – if funding was secured.

Thousands of people are expected to attend the Tall Ships Races in just a few months’ time, yet the current station doesn’t even offer visitors a public toilet. Urgent changes are needed.

In addition, I would like to see the UK’s high-speed rail network extended to Sunderland. This would provide better links for companies wanting to develop overseas trade and help boost our economy.

The economic assets of Sunderland in key sectors like digital can only be fully realised when fellow Northern cities like Leeds are part of the same ecosystem – genuinely collaborating, not competing.

** This article was originally published in the Sunderland Echo on April 19, 2018.

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