Training budgets for nurses and other healthcare professionals are being cut by up to a third in some parts of the country as strategic health authorities make savings to deal with deficits.
The funding for doctors, nurses, and other health professionals is being hit all over England as SHAs create a 'contingency fund' of£350m that will be used to shore up finances and enable the NHS to show a surplus this financial year (news, page 5, 17 August).
The Royal College of Surgeons and the Council of Deans and Heads of UK University Faculties for Nursing and Health Professions have both measured the cuts to training budgets this year at around 10 per cent. But some areas are being hit harder than others.
Council chair Professor Dame Jill Macleod Clark warned that the cuts could 'torpedo any progress on modernising the NHS and provision of more care outside hospitals'.
The council surveyed all 60 universities providing healthcare education in England, and found that the number of new students being commissioned this year had fallen by 10 per cent on average, but by up to 25 per cent in the East of England, London, South Central, and South West SHA areas.
According to the survey, NHS East of England, which ended last year£214m in the red, is cutting its funding for post-registration training for nurses and other health professionals by one-third this year, and the training budget for pre-registration training will be slashed by 30 per cent.
The SHA said the measures included 'reductions in training commissions and curtailing or slipping development programmes'. It said the savings were short term and that it was keen to minimize their impact, while a longer-term investment strategy was planned.
The savings used to create the£350m 'contingency fund', come from£5.5bn devolved to SHAs this year from central funds previously devoted to areas including clinical training and public health.
HSJ understands that the Department of Health is carrying out a mapping exercise to establish the effect on training budgets of SHAs' savings, but Dame Jill warned that the cuts took no account of workforce needs. 'They are driven by financial expedience,' she said.
'Cuts in students now will mean fewer nurses, midwives and allied health professionals being available to the NHS in 2009-10'.
The cuts in funding are also affecting postgraduate training for junior doctors, with courses for surgeons being cancelled.
Royal College of Surgeons president Bernard Ribeiro accused SHAs of hitting the 'seedcorn' of surgical training in order to meet deficits.
A Royal College of Nursing spokesman said: 'There is real danger we will go back to the days of boom and bust in nurse recruitment. We have built up the numbers of nurses in training, then there are financial problems, then training is seen as a soft target to balance the books and we're back where we were before.'