Arlene Foster wants Magee medical school within 'fastest feasible timetable' but won't guarantee intake in September 2021
First Minister Arlene Foster says the Executive wishes to establish a graduate-entry medical school at Magee College within the 'fastest feasible timetable.'
However, speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday, Mrs. Foster declined to give a guarantee on when the first intake of students would take place.
She said all the 'necessary preparatory work' would have to be completed before the Executive could do so, after being asked for a progress update by Foyle MLA Mark Durkan.
The First Minister said the Executive's objective now is to "progress the project to secure a sustainable outcome within the fastest feasible timetable. It is a complex project involving a number of Departments and external agencies. The Executive Office is working with the Department of Health, the Department for the Economy and the Department of Finance to prepare further advice to Executive on the issues that need to be addressed to secure that sustainability".
Mr. Durkan asked Mrs. Foster whether the first intake of students would be able to take place in September 2021.
"Given the announcement from the deputy First Minister on May 7 that the Executive Office would take forward the medical school project and her subsequent announcement that it had been approved, can the Executive Office give a cast-iron guarantee that, as announced, the Magee medical school will be ready for admissions by September next year? Will the Minister outline what specific dates and deadlines must be met to achieve that goal?" he asked.
Mrs. Foster replied: "Just yesterday, at the Executive meeting, we received an update from the head of the Civil Service about the project. The Strategic Investment Board is involved to try to make sure that we minimise the risks to the delivery of the project. The head of the Civil Service was able to give us an update on the progress of the Magee medical school and, indeed, to talk us through the risk management issues.
"We do not intend to make any announcements about the date of the first intake until all the necessary preparatory work has been completed, and we very much hope that that will continue at pace in the Executive Office. As I said, it is a cross-departmental issue involving a number of different Departments, which is why the Executive Office stepped in to try to assist in making sure that things move smoothly."
The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Steve Aiken raised the matter of cost over-runs at the Ulster University's York Street project.
Dr. Aiken said: "Minister, you will, of course, be aware that one of the key strategic partners for Magee is Ulster University. It has been involved in some very significant cost overruns on another one of its campuses. Indeed, I think that there are investigations ongoing into whether it is capable of managing projects. Therefore, what confidence does the Minister have in Ulster University being a suitable partner for delivering this vital project for Londonderry?"
Mrs Foster replied: "Some of those matters are, of course, for the Minister for the Economy, and I am sure that he will take those up with her. Capacity and finance are clearly issues that will have to be examined in a wider look at risk management in the scheme.
"That was why the head of the Civil Service was able to give us an update yesterday. We have involved the Strategic Investment Board to look at all those issues so that, moving forward, we know where the risks are and can make sure that we are in a good place with the delivery of that commitment."
Independent Unionist MLA Claire Sugden asked about the running costs of the new medical school at Magee in the long term.
"I understand that considerable capital moneys have been committed to the Magee project. Will it be necessary to provide additional moneys to the Department for the Economy for the running and day-to-day costs or will it have to find those from within its budget?" she asked.
The First Minister responded: "As I said, the financial and governance challenges facing UU will be overseen by the Strategic Investment Board. It is important that we have that body looking in at what we are trying to achieve to give us the confidence that any risks that are identified can be managed and mitigated. Those Ulster University matters will be taken forward by the Department for the Economy with oversight from the Executive Office."