Sir Owen Glenn is pledging $5 million towards the creation of a medical school in Waikato.

The 76-year-old philanthropist made the announcement at a function at Waikato University on Tuesday.

The medical school proposal, a joint initiative by Waikato University and the Waikato District Health Board, aims to reverse a shortfall of primary care doctors, especially in provincial and rural areas.

Waikato University Vice Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley, right, said Sir Owen Glenn's $5 million pledge to support a ...
Waikato University Vice Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley, right, said Sir Owen Glenn's $5 million pledge to support a Waikato medical school proposal was immensely generous.

The proposal is currently before the Government.

Sir Owen said a new medical school and a new model of medical education was desperately needed in New Zealand.

He called on others "who can afford to do so" to lend their support.

"To demonstrate my commitment to this goal, I am announcing tonight that I am pledging $5 million to the University of Waikato to support its development of a medical school in return for naming rights of the school," he said.

"I honestly think it's Waikato's time, not just for the medical school but everything. You've got the movement of businesses here, the population is growing. Why not enhance the region by whatever means."

It's been almost 50 years since New Zealand last established a medical school.

Contrary to the traditional medical school model, the Waikato school will take graduates with a degree in any discipline, who are from the communities that need them, and put them through four years of training.

Currently, only 15 per cent of New Zealand medical graduates choose to become GPs. 

Sir Owen said he had nothing to gain personally if the medical school proposal went ahead but believed it deserved government backing.

"What really grabbed me was this concept of putting things right. When you sit down and read the proposal, it's hard to argue against it.

"A government that really cares for the health of all New Zealanders would move now to introduce diversity in our approach to medical education by establishing the Waikato medical school.

"Having only one model of medical education in New Zealand, and only two medical schools who provide it, confers huge advantages on those universities that they are naturally keen to retain.

"But we have reached the point where we should no longer be prepared to tolerate the very human cost of such a limited approach to medical education, and the inability of our two medical schools to produce enough graduates who want to work in primary care in our high-needs communities."

Auckland and Otago medical schools have criticised the Waikato proposal, labelling it ill-considered.

The two schools fear a third medical school could push their students out of training placements.

In response, Sir Owen said it was "simply unrealistic" to claim New Zealand was training enough doctors to meet its health workforce needs.

Each year, New Zealand recruits 1100 overseas doctors .

The proposed Waikato medical school was designed to complement Auckland and Otago medical schools and was based on successful community-engaged schools overseas, Sir Owen said.

He was particularly impressed that a primary focus of the Waikato medical school will be on community healthcare in high needs communities.

"The shortage of primary care providers … has huge social and economic costs," he said.

"The social costs are particularly apparent in the Maori population. Avoidable hospitalisations of Maori children are 25 per cent higher than for other New Zealand children."

Waikato University Vice-Chancellor Professor Neil Quigley said Sir Owen's pledge was a gesture of immense generosity.

In addition to his pledge, being able to attach Sir Owen's name to the medical school proposal was a significant advantage.

"He will be able to give the proposal that push. Sir Owen's willingness to take on causes that he thinks need to be in the public domain is really something to admire."

Sir Owen said both major political parties needed to publicly endorse the Waikato proposal and urged voters to quiz candidates on their stance during the upcoming election.

"It's hard not to criticise previous governments because this GP shortage hasn't taken place over five or 10 years. It's been a long period of apathy."

Medical school proposal

  • Takes graduates of any three-year university degree.
  • Four years of training.
  • Aim to have 60 per cent of graduates specialising as GPs.
  • Placements in regional training centres around the central North Island.
  • Students selected on basis of: results, commitment to community.
  • Number of Maori students in cohort in line with percentage in population.

Who is Sir Owen Glenn?

  • A successful businessman and philanthropist, Sir Owen Glenn was born in India and raised in Auckland.
  • The 76-year-old made his fortune in transport and logistics, building up a multinational firm, OTS Logistics, before selling out in 2012.
  • His philanthropy work has seen him donate tens of millions of dollars to charitable causes around the world.
  • In 2002, Sir Owen donated $7.5m to Auckland University for the development of its Business School.
  • The school's complex is named the Owen G. Glenn Building.
  • He also donated an additional $500,000 towards the establishment of a PhD scholarship.
  • He once held a 50 per cent stake in the New Zealand Warriors NRL team but sold his shares to businessman Eric Watson in 2015 following a falling out between the pair.
  • Last year, Sir Owen revealed he was battling liver cancer and had undergone three operations to treat it.
  • He was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and the community in 2008.
  • In 2013 he was named a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to philanthropy.

Image source: Tom Lee/Fairfax Media

Article by Aaron Leaman/Fairfax Media


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