Fight for NHS cash hots up as 'chaos' threatens nurse training jobs

May 19, 2006

Pressure is building on the Department of Health to transfer the billions of pounds it spends on the education and training of nurses and other health professionals to the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The situation is tense as financial deficits in the National Health Service create "chaos" in university budgets and threaten the future viability of nursing education at some institutions.

Steven West, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England, said that his institution faced budget cuts of about 40 per cent and that he could have to cancel some nursing courses in September.

He is preparing a briefing paper on nursing education for David Eastwood, Hefce's new chief executive.

"Despite numerous attempts to bring stability to the funding of nursing and other health professionals, the deficits in the NHS are creating chaos,"

Professor West said. "We need to look at the long-term future of these courses, and one sensible option is to transfer funding to Hefce, which already funds medics."

The Council of Deans for Nursing and Health Professions, which met this week for its annual retreat, is expected to back the move.

"The education and training funding stream is meant to be ring-fenced but is clearly not," said Paul Turner, executive officer of the council of deans. "In light of this, a simplified funding system via Hefce should clearly be considered."

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said this was an idea vice-chancellors would want to explore. "It seems to work for medicine and dentistry, would provide greater stability and is also the model adopted in Scotland."

The NHS spends about £4 billion a year educating nurses and other health professionals and paying hospitals to teach them. At least £1.8 billion of this goes directly on bursaries for students and on teaching nurses and other health professionals in universities.

The influx of such a large amount of cash would transform Hefce, which has a budget of £6.5 billion. The idea of bringing the budgets for the education of nurses and medics into one funding stream has been raised before.

"Given this reality and given the current instability, it would make sense to transfer funding over to Hefce," Professor West said.

A spokeswoman for the DH said the current arrangements allowed the NHS to plan the workforce locally.

"We continue to believe the best way for this to be carried out is for the funding to remain as a DH/NHS budget," she said.

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