University staff are paying the price for decisions by strategic health authorities to cut investment in training and divert cash elsewhere. Melanie Newman reports
Universities are being forced to slash teaching staff as strategic health authorities redirect millions of pounds from their training budgets to cover deficits elsewhere in the National Health Service.
The University of East Anglia announced plans to make 19 academic staff redundant this year, with a further four possibly facing the axe in 2008-09.
In the past academic year, the East of England SHA commissioned per cent fewer preregistration nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students from UEA than the year before. It has commissioned the same reduced number for 2007-08.
Kate Guyon, dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery at UEA, said: "Last year, the university had to dip into its strategic reserves to help the school out. It couldn't do that again. We've had to bite the bullet."
The staff cuts represent almost a third of the schools' workforce, she added. The university's contract for post-registration students has also been kept at reduced levels.
"This flies in the face of the Department of Health's intention that registered nurses be equipped to take on new and expanded roles," Ms Guyon said.
Kevin Foreman, dean of the faculty of health and social care at the University of the West of England, said the faculty was looking at an 11 per cent cut in the number of preregistration students compared with 2005-06.
The university froze 16 administrative and academic vacancies last year.
"This year, we are looking for alternative income streams to shore up the shortfall," Dr Foreman said. "If those can't be found, we may have to look at further reductions in posts."
Oxford Brookes University's School of Health and Social Care has cut 45 academic and support staff posts in the past year.
The Council of Deans and Heads of UK University Faculties for Nursing and Health Professions has warned that SHAs are continuing to raid education budgets to make up for general deficits.
Steve West, chair of the Council of Deans, said: "The evidence is that some SHAs are intending to raid education budgets in 2007-08 to fund potential deficits in their wider health economies, as they did in 2006-07."
As well as negative effects on workforce development, "random raiding" of education budgets would destabilise education and training infrastructure, Professor West warned. "Universities will not be in a position to respond to future demands for more students," he added.
SHA board papers collated by the Council of Deans and Heads show that five of the ten SHAs in England are planning to build up "strategic funds" or "contingency reserves" using contributions from their Multi Professional Education and Training Levy allocations.
East of England SHA, which commissions student training from UEA, refers in its board papers to an "expectation" that the levy contributed £34.6 million (10.4 per cent) to the SHA strategic reserve in 2007-08.
South Central SHA's March board papers show that it is planning to use 11.8 per cent of its £291.6 million education budget to contribute towards an "investment fund reserve".
A spokesman for the South Central SHA said that it had held back funds while it updated its strategic workforce plan. "Demand forecasts, turnover data and other intelligence from primary care trusts and other NHS trusts suggest that we need slightly fewer newly qualified nurses coming out of universities than they have produced," he said.