Proposed UCC dental school and innovation hub set to benefit patients and local industry

Proposed UCC dental school and innovation hub set to benefit patients and local industry

Children and adults requiring special care dentistry whose needs have not been met in the past will be among those to benefit when Cork University Dental School and Hospital opens its doors in 2023.

Helen Whelton, head of the College of Medicine and Health at University College Cork (UCC), said the new school will address the Government’s new national oral health policy which acknowledges the need to improve dental services for vulnerable people.

Its facilities will include specially-adapted suites with low noise levels and low lighting.

The new dental hospital is one of four key developments that form the backbone of UCC’s “grand plan” for medicine and health which, when completed, will add substantially to the research and innovation capabilities of the region.

The key elements of the plan include:

  • An 8,500 sq m Cork University Dental School and Hospital in Curaheen — out to tender in February 2020 and set for completion in summer 2023;
  • €34m funding has been secured from the European Investment Bank, although Professor Whelton acknowledges it will cost “considerably more”;
  • A 3,500 sq m Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) building in Curraheen, costing c€16.5m. Tenders are in, with work on finances ongoing;
  • A 3,000 sq m Clinical Medical School, on the existing Cork University Hospital campus;
  • A 20,000 sq m Clinical Research Network Hub on the site currently occupied by the existing dental hospital at CUH.

Ms Whelton said that the decision to locate the dental school and hospital in Curraheen, currently occupied by UCC’s sports campus, was on foot of an “options appraisal” by consultants Deloitte, who recommended a greenfield site.

The sports campus will move “across the road” to another UCC-owned site.

Proposed UCC dental school and innovation hub set to benefit patients and local industry

The dental school expansion will allow an increase in the student cohort from 50 to 72.

Prof Whelton said they wanted to develop “an advanced care centre”.

“The UCC dental hospital is the only hospital in the State treating patients that is run by a university.

“We have a service level agreement with the HSE and we want to build and expand on that.

Proposed UCC dental school and innovation hub set to benefit patients and local industry

“It will involve additional staff because we will have extra students, including international students, who help to generate income,” said Ms Whelton.

The second element of the “grand plan”, the Health Innovation Hub building — also earmarked for the Innovation Park/District in Curraheen — will provide research/innovation space, business incubation, accelerator/‘Grow on’ business training/support, tenant space for established companies, and a “house team” to manage the precinct.

Prof Whelton, who is also chief academic officer for the HSE South South West Hospital Group, said there will be “no problem populating it”.

“The whole idea is to create an environment for collision of ideas, allowing people to interact across sectors and companies,” she said.

“Work on financing it is at an advanced stage. We are looking at a public/private partnership model.”

Prof Whelton added that the building will include laboratories where companies can rent lab space for a limited time.

The development would work well with industry in the region, she said, which includes more than 150 overseas and multinational companies, 50 global technology companies, and seven of the world’s top 10 pharma companies.

Prof Whelton said the “time is definitely right” for this type of development in Cork.

Proposed UCC dental school and innovation hub set to benefit patients and local industry

“Time is pressing. We need to claim our territory. We need to be doing things like this to hang on to the companies in our region,” she said.

Plans to develop a €1bn 17km light rail system from Ballincollig to Mahon would slot in nicely with the development, she said.

The third element of the plan, a Clinical Research Network Hub, will house clinical research and allow a substantial expansion of the level of research currently being conducted at UCC and CUH.

“If we can increase the research capability, we are making it more attractive to international staff. It would also benefit local industry and patients,” Prof Whelton said.

“Hospital consultants tell me they could double their research if they could have more space.

Patients in the region would benefit from more research. They would have more access to clinical trials, to new drugs. Research is really good for the health service.

"The evidence shows that a research-active health service has better patient outcomes.”

The Clinical Medical School, the final element of the plan, will support teaching medical students at CUH, where currently teaching space is limited.

It will be located between CUH and the Clinical Research Network Hub.

Professor Whelton is the 2019 recipient of the Distinguished Scientist H. Trendley Dean Memorial Award.

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