Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Is The Medical Faculty Really Needed?

They were handing out awards the other evening. While Hollywood was congratulating itself, in Mallorca there were congratulations for, among others, Real Mallorca - an award for longevity, one supposes.

These were the Ramon Llull prizes and Gold Medal. They are dished out each year to coincide with Balearics Day. Because it is the Balearics and not just Mallorca, there are awards for the other islands. The Ibiza university school of tourism and the Mahon Philharmonic got gongs as well. Good for them.

The highest award of this gala event at Palma's Teatre Principal was the Gold Medal. This is the award that carries the greatest distinction in the autonomous community that is the Balearics. It went to a doctor, Oriol Bonnín, who has devoted the past generation to being one of the islands' leading heart surgeons. Asked about the possibility (his name has been mentioned) of his becoming the first dean of the medical faculty at the University of the Balearic Islands, he said that there are those who are better prepared than he is for such a role.

That the medical faculty should crop up was inevitable. Might it, some years down the line, receive a Ramon Llull just like the Ibiza tourism school did the other evening? If the politicians have anything to do with it, then yes. The politicians who support it, that is. Because of Bonnin's standing in the medical profession, he was bound to have been asked the question. Though he seems less than interested in the post of dean, he is a strong supporter of the faculty. It is something which, on the surface, would seem to be politically neutral. Something that is a "good thing". So why is there the fuss over it that there is?

The faculty has long been called for. There are only two regions of the country that don't have one: La Rioja and the Balearics. For a region, the Balearics, with one of the country's finest public health hospitals, a strong reputation for health care in any event and ambitions for health tourism, the absence of kudos from a medical faculty can seem anachronistic. A medical faculty brings it with it greater prestige, higher levels of professionalism, more rigorous research. It also has great advantages for those undertaking medical studies. A medical school in Mallorca will mean not being obliged to study on the mainland, with the attendant additional costs for studying that this entails.

It had already been announced that a course in medical studies would be introduced for the 2016-2017 university year. Despite this, it wasn't until a few days ago that the regional government formally approved the creation of the faculty. Such apparent lateness, given that the course would begin in September, has been offset to some extent by the fact that a joint committee from the university and regional ministries of education and health have been paving the way for the course since last September.

Back in February, the government announced that half a million euros would be budgeted for something that won't require new facilities as it will be integrated into the medical teaching unit at Son Espases. But also in February, Podemos launched a major assault on the plan for the faculty. This wasn't because the party was against it but because it argued that it was neither an educational nor a health priority. In one of the more coherent cases that Podemos has put forward in challenging a government decision, the party argued that it would still be the case that students would need to move to the mainland because of the limited number of places, that there were other disciplines as deserving of their own faculties as medicine, that a whole host of major organisations have been advising against the necessity for more medical faculties in Spain and that the budget to be diverted towards it could be prejudicial to existing faculties and research at the university.

Above all, Podemos challenged the decision-making process that was to lead to the government's ultimate approval. Different options needed to have been presented with "transparency" and only once they were understood could a decision be taken. Essentially, it was arguing that the decision had come not from the education ministry but from the health ministry, and Podemos has had its issues with that ministry because of the alleged nepotism over the appointment of Juli Fuster as director-general of IB-Salut.

The budget for the initial course has since been increased by 100,000 euros, and the budget is just one source of what has become a row between Podemos and the government that is every bit as raw as the one over the tourist tax. Money should be devoted to primary care, scholarships and social needs, Podemos argues.

Is the faculty simply a prestige project for the government? For Podemos, it would seem that it is.

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