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Historic Newcastle building sets tone for future pharmacists

Students begin the first-ever pharmacy degree at Newcastle University, at the impressive King George VI building

Posted by Julian Owen | November 15, 2017 | Estates

Pharmacists work in a variety of settings to provide essential healthcare services, yet none will have the historical gravitas of the King George VI building where students will study at the University.

Medicine and its related courses have been taught at Newcastle University since 1834 and the King George VI building has provided a solid foundation for students learning about the medical field.

It is the first year that Newcastle University has hosted a Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) undergraduate degree, as it was previously based at Durham University and has now transferred to Tyneside.

Teaching is again based in the impressive King George VI building, which is steeped in history and prestige as it was 

Pictures show the moment as hundreds crowded around the Royal couple, grabbing the best vantage point, including rooftops and balconies.

The King George VI building was opened by the King and Queen Elizabeth in 1939

A total of 80 first year students are enrolled on the four-year course and they will study topics such as chronic disease management, prescribing and decision-making, pharmaceutics and medicine design, medicinal chemistry and pharmacology. 

 Professor Andrew Husband is the Head of the School of Pharmacy. He moved from Durham University and is Chair of the national General Pharmaceutical Council Accreditation Team and the Board of Assessors. Prof. Husband said: “It is an exciting time for students and staff to begin the Master of Pharmacy at Newcastle University and we’re delighted to get the degree started.

“There is no better building to create a world-class school, providing outstanding education and research, which has impact regionally, nationally and internationally.”

The transfer of MPharm puts Newcastle University in the enviable position as one of the few universities in the Russell Group, the leading research universities in the country, to offer programmes and research in medicine, dentistry, biomedical sciences, psychology and pharmacy.

Newcastle University’s medical origins lie in two distinct colleges, both of which were initially part of Durham University.

Newcastle upon Tyne School of Medicine and Surgery and the College of Physical Science were established in 1834 and 1871 respectively, setting the tone for a strong medical tradition.   

The colleges were first located at the bottom of Newcastle’s Westgate Road in premises owned by the Coal Trade Chambers, however, by 1883 the inadequate facilities and planned extension to Central Station required both colleges to move.

However, both failed to agree on new shared premises, which resulted in split locations. Durham University’s College of Medicine moved to the Sutherland Building on Northumberland Road – now part of Northumbria University – and the College of Physical Science purchased land which is now the site of Newcastle University’s Armstrong building and Old Quadrangle.

In 1934 an Act of Parliament, triggered by the recommendation from a Royal Commission, merged both colleges and established King’s College as a separate division of Durham University. The resulting merger led to substantial reforms and plans to re-house the overcrowded University College of Medicine at the Northumberland Road site closer to the teaching hospital.

Construction of the New College of Medicine – later renamed as the King George VI building – began in 1936, which was completed in 1938 and a later attic storey added between 1955 and 1957. The building was largely paid for by Sir Arthur Munro who donated £200,000, which is the equivalent of £6m today.

The planned opening of the building in 1938 by then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was deferred due to the Munich crisis. The following year it was officially opened by His Majesty King George VI and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 21st February 1939.

Professor David Burn, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, said: “The King George VI building remains at the heart of the University and is a fitting location for our pharmacy course, inspiring the next generation of students who will be at the cutting edge of this critically important and exciting profession.

“We are delighted to host our first Master of Pharmacy undergraduate degree here at Newcastle University, furthering our reputation as a leader in the medical field.” 

An extensive redevelopment of the red-brick King George VI building sees the School of Pharmacy based in impressive new facilities, including two large teaching labs and numerous associated research spaces.

The revamp has restored the original features of the building and maintained its history whilst creating a contrast with modern fixtures and fittings within the laboratories.

On August 1 this year 25 staff transferred from Durham University’s School of Medicine, Pharmacy and Health to become part of Newcastle University’s new School of Pharmacy.

Over 20 PhD students have moved from Durham to Newcastle to finish their doctorates and more than 180 students have transferred from Durham to undertake the second, third and fourth years of their Durham MPharm programmes. 

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