University of West of England faces multi-million pound losses as course funding axed

Efforts to stem NHS deficits are threatening to push higher education into the red, HSJ has learned.

The University of the West of England is understood to be considering staff cuts as it faces a multi-million pound loss due to last-minute cuts to its nursing and allied health professional courses.

As the NHS prepares to implement the government's white paper commitment to shift services into the community, the university has had funding for its new intake to community nursing courses axed entirely for 2006-07.

The university has also had funding for pre and post-registration learning disability nursing new intakes axed. And registered general nursing conversion courses to midwifery and mental health and child courses starting in September and next January left empty.

HSJ understands that the former Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire strategic health authority made the cuts to its contracts with the university in April to save£900,000 as part of its efforts to close a£40m deficit, forcing it to withdraw offers already made to students.

And a survey by the Council of Deans and Heads of UK University Faculties for Nursing and Health Professions has found that just 20 per cent of nursing and allied health professional students qualifying this summer have secured jobs at the end of June compared to an average of 70 per cent or above in previous years.

Council chair Jill Macleod Clark told MPs at a Commons health select committe evidence session last Thursday that there was 'no doubt' that the nursing and AHP 'pot of money' had been 'raided' to balance NHS deficits.

She added that health minister Lord Warner has also refused to agree to ringfence training funds for the next financial year which would prevent SHAs using it to balance service debts.

'The long-term consequences for NHS workforce requirements could be devastating as the reduction in funding does not correspond with a fall in demand,' said Ms Clarke.

MPs also heard alarm from medical training representatives that education had not been recognised in new SHA 'constitutions'.

Professional Medical Education Training Board chief executive Paul Streets said it was 'difficult to see SHAs being able to' provide 'national strategic leadership' on workforce planning needed over the next year.

And Professor John Tooke, chair of the Council of UK Medical Schools, said he and his colleagues were 'very concerned' that new SHA boards did not have a dedicated education and training representative, and that training was missing from the new Healthcare Commission developmental standards.

Meanwhile the government announced this week that junior nurses can only be recruited from abroad if NHS trusts cannot fill vacancies with nurses trained in the UK or Europe.

Nurses working at bands five and six under Agenda for Change have been removed from the Home Office's 'shortage occupation' list because there has been an increase of 82,000 qualified nurses since 1997 and there are 'record numbers' of nurses in training.

But the Royal College of Nursing said the move was shortsighted, claiming over 150,000 nurses are approaching retirement in the next five to 10 years.