Monday 18 February 2019

The Shifting Sands of Shifa'a


Shifa'a is an Arabic word meaning Health and a general reference to the Islamic religious text al Shifa, a book which promises advice to restore health simply by being read to or by the sick.
The Shifa'a project in Kuwait is allegedly a £600 million project, a new  private hospital and private university medical school. Swansea University, or at least some of its employees, have been involved. Even Carmarthenshire Council's Chief Executive Mark James was due to have a position as trustee on the Kuwaiti University's Academic board, along with now suspended Swansea Academics Professor Marc Clement  and Vice Chancellor Professor Richard Davies.. The plan may well  have been to offer Kuwait based students UK medical degrees from Swansea's own Postgraduate School of Medicine.



 The new Llanelli Wellness project is mentioned as a base for these students, although it is not clear what  branches of medicine they would actually be studying there as there is no clarity as to whether the Hywel Dda "Hub" the Health board is planning to occupy after it is built for them, would be suitable for medical students to assist or observe there.The University research building itself is on hold and may never be built.

The Shifa'a university is  entirely private and hopes to recruit 5,000 students to be trained in the private hospital adjacent. It is clear that Swansea University planned to award Swansea degrees to theses students to give them UK accredited qualifications. The Swansea University would own 10% of the  Kuwaiti medical school. The Shifa'a was expected to have a turnover of £450 million within 5 years. However, other UK Universities have found returns on similar projects far less than promised and some have had to close overseas campuses.

Professor Clement has form on dubious overseas degrees. He was involved in a scandal about validation of external degrees some time ago, some given to colleges abroad and other to UK based institutions not thought to be of the proper standard..

 The University of Wales  tried to award external degrees and had sufficient difficulties to wind up the scheme  In 2011 their validation was withdrawn from schemes for the 11,675 degree courses offered externally.under the auspices of the University of Wales. There were degrees issued by a wide variety of institutions including bible colleges in Russia, Chinese medicine taught in Barcelona and other subjects in small UK colleges whose staff did not appear properly qualified. There had been few checks on the quality of the product endorsed. Validation procedures were exposed as inadequate and there was suspicion of corrupt practice. The scam was exposed by journalists, bloggers and eventually Private Eye.


Now what is this all about? Money for Swansea University? Difficult to say.
KPMG claim that the project was originally fully approved by the university, but Swansea has now withdrawn its support. Their medical school has around 100 doctor training places per year for postgraduate students only.  The UK course length is 4 years and these students will have already completed a 3 year degree previously. Were the Kuwaitis to be postgraduates too? I doubt it.

Problems have apparently been identified with the arrangements  but the actual reasons for the University's withdrawal from both the Kuwaiti Shifa'a project and also the Llanelli Wellness project are not yet clear.

 The private Wellness investor, Sterling Health, has also withdrawn from the Wellness project. No university has yet been found by Carmarthenshire County Council to replace Swansea and allow City Deal Funding for the Wellness Centre, Neither has a bona fide private backer been recruited .which was also needed to qualify for UK and Welsh Government funds .

The County Council is likely to "go it alone " and borrow all the funds to build the large Neurosciences themed business park when the planning problems raised by NRW have been clarified and addressed.The council  taxpayers of Carmarthenshire may bear the brunt eventually with higher taxation and even cuts in services.. At least £250 million has probably been borrowed already and at least £2 million spent. The final bill if the project goes ahead could be well over £300 million ,

There is still no sign of the Wellness project business plan which was drawn up by Professor Marc Clement but not deemed suitable to be released to the public after appraisal by the County Council's Executive Board. With 2000 new jobs to be provided at £150,000 per head you would think the plan has to be credible? Apparently not.

Wales has a considerable deficit in medical education and does not train the number of medical practitioners or nurses needed for our country. What the hell are Swansea Academics and a Senior Local Government Civil servant doing by planning to sell medical science degrees to middle eastern students? Its a kick in the teeth for our own youngsters who cannot even get into a medical or nursing school due to shortage of places. Were the "proceeds" ever likely to be used to expand our own medical and nursing schools or to line the pockets of others? Was there ever a likelihood of profit anyway?

This a recurring Welsh Government  and Welsh Local Government Theme of grandiose plans , landmark buildings and legacy projects with vague prospects of delivering real economic growth or improvements to infrastructure. The Circuit of Wales is another example of a grand plan which did not work out. Maybe the Llanelli Wellness Centre can turn £300 million or more of public money into 2,000 jobs and a scientific wellness centre which will turn around the prospects of South Carmarthenshire, but in the absence of the background research and expressions of interest by firms who allegedly wanted to rent the buildings, us ordinary members of the public are in the dark and there is no convincing evidence. I have questioned the man who is borrowing the millions required, no doubt inspired by the secret business case. He is Cllr David Jenkins, but no answer as yet from him.

David Jenkins, Plaid Councillor and Executive Board Member for Finance
Carmarthenshire County Council

If we want to be a decent country we should not allow ourselves to be victimised and robbed by the "get your area rich quick" schemes so often sold to our Government and Local Authorities. We do not need majestic palaces built on large areas of barren (cheap) land, often in inconvenient and unsuitable places. We need to raise the standards of the whole nation. Its not the pretty shiny fantasy images we need, but the basic improvements in our own communities to fulfil the needs and aspirations of ordinary people.

Siân Caiach

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