Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Waikato health chief had bid for new medical school in Canada

Dr Nigel Murray's bid for a Waikato medical school was foreshadowed by a similar proposal when he led a health authority in suburban Vancouver. File photo
Dr Nigel Murray's bid for a Waikato medical school was foreshadowed by a similar proposal when he led a health authority in suburban Vancouver. File photo

The proposed Waikato Medical School is not the first medical school pushed for by former Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray.

Murray, who quit his $560,000 a year post at the DHB in October amid an expenses scandal, also wanted a medical school built in Canada in 2008.

At the time Murray was less than a year into his role with the Fraser Health Authority in British Columbia when he began "preliminary discussions" with officials at Simon Fraser University [SFU] and the University of British Columbia [UBC].

According to an article in the Vancouver Sun on September 25, 2008, Murray wanted to "move forward with plans to secure health professionals for the region".

"There's some urgency to health workplace planning because there is a real shortage of doctors and a medical school in this jurisdiction would be very complementary to that objective," Murray is quoted as saying.

But the proposal never went ahead.

The Herald understands such a venture would have required board approval and the BC government's consensus, and was not the role of a health authority CEO.

At the time the University of British Columbia had three campuses that provided medical doctor training, including the main campus in Vancouver, at the University of Victoria and University of Northern British Columbia.

A fourth campus now exists at Okanagan.

Nigel Murray proposed a new medical school in suburban Vancouver, Canada, before backing a bid for one in Hamilton. File photo
Nigel Murray proposed a new medical school in suburban Vancouver, Canada, before backing a bid for one in Hamilton. File photo

SFU did not have the infrastructure at the time to cope with such an expansion, according to the Vancouver Sun report.

Under Murray's leadership the Waikato DHB, together with the University of Waikato, announced a joint proposal for a third medical school to be built in Hamilton, in October last year.

The business case was submitted to the Government in May estimating a cost of $101 million to establish the school to produce an extra 60 medical graduates per year, and $265 million to run over 10 years. A decision has yet to be made.

The focus was on generating more GPs, particularly for rural areas that are struggling to retain doctors.

But University of Auckland dean of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences Professor John Fraser told the Herald at the time the idea was "ill-conceived and unwarranted".

"A new programme is simply not in the national interest and taxpayers will have to pay for what is an ill-considered and expensive folly," he said.

"The existing programmes at Auckland and Otago are already meeting the needs for growth of doctors for New Zealand."

Fraser also hit out at Waikato's argument that the existing medical programmes were not producing the right kinds of doctors, saying it was "simply not true and reflects a naive assumption that careful planning has not occurred to address the workforce shortage they purport to address".

However DHB spokeswoman Lydia Aydon said the Waikato board had been trying to get a medical school in the region for many years.

"Our first bid was in 1970 with the Univeristy of Waikato," she said.

"Then in 2007 we had a proposal with the University of Auckland. It was also in the Midland region strategic plan for 2007 for a third medical school in our region. We were all set to go ahead but Auckland University decided not to go ahead with the proposal, which was very disappointing."

She said the most recent proposal was instigated by Waikato University vice-chancellor Dr Neil Quigley.

A spokesman for Education Minister Chris Hipkins said Hipkins received a paper on the proposal on Friday and expects to make a decision in the next two to three months.

Meanwhile the State Services Commission's investigation into Murray's spending of $218,000 of public money over three years, and former board chairman Bob Simcock's oversight of Murray's expenses is ongoing.

The Serious Fraud Office and the Office of the Auditor-General are also making preliminary inquiries into the case.

An official complaint to the SFO about Murray's spending and the DHB's $18.8m investment into HealthTap – the American company that powers the SmartHealth app - was made on Thursday by former Labour MP Sue Moroney.

- NZ Herald

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