Strategic health authorities are raiding over £117m from this year's training budgets, HSJ has learned.

In a move condemned by NHS Employers and the British Medical Association as 'short-sighted', five SHAs have indicated they will divert up to 11.8 per cent of the money allocated to them for training into their strategic reserves.

This contradicts undertakings given by the Department of Health to the Commons health select committee during its 2006 inquiry into NHS workforce planning, and undermines a service-level agreement between SHAs and higher education institutes announced by health minister Lord Hunt last week.

An analysis of March 2007 board papers by the Council of Deans for Nursing and Health Professions shows how much SHAs plan to take from their 2007-08 multi-professional education and training (MPET) allocations and put straight into strategic reserves. The figures are:

  • South Central SHA£34.4m (11.8 per cent);
  • East of England SHA£34.6m (10.4 per cent);
  • South West SHA£23.1m (6 per cent);
  • South East Coast£9.1m (3.7 per cent).

East Midlands SHA expects to deliver a surplus of£15.8m (4.7 per cent) on its MPET budget.

Board papers from London, North West, West Midlands, Yorkshire and the Humber and North East SHAs do not indicate any plans to use MPET allocations to fund strategic reserves.

Protecting funds

SHAs were severely criticised for raiding 9 per cent of their 2006-07 MPET allocations to balance the books, and the DoH last week launched a service-level agreement designed to protect budgets while allowing for some local flexibility in how they are spent. But the figures for 2007-08 indicate that this will not having the desired effect.

Council of Deans executive officer for Nursing and Health Professions Paul Turner said: 'We are concerned whether the service-level agreement, as agreed, is sufficiently robust to protect funding.'

NHS Employers deputy director Sian Thomas said raiding MPET allocations was short-sighted. 'It's the easy thing to do but not necessarily the right thing. Training your workforce leads to better business performance, better care for patients and safer outcomes.'

BMA consultants committee chair Dr Jonathan Fielden agreed: 'This is short-termism in the extreme. It shows that they really have not got the idea of how to embed quality.'

Drive for efficiency

NHS East of England director of workforce Stephen Welfare said: 'We have managed to transfer some funds from the MPET budget to front-line patient care services across the region, while ensuring that the number of people who will have access to education and training remains unchanged from last year. Patients and clinicians in our hospitals will welcome this efficient use of resources.'

South East Coast SHA board papers show that the£15m savings included£6m government top slicing. The board had yet to make a final decision.

A DoH spokesperson said: 'It is essential that the health service has the freedom to manage training so workforce development reflects the healthcare needs of the local population and this agreement links funding of training much more closely to workforce planning needs.

'The key issue is the outcomes of money invested in training, rather than how much money is spent for a particular purpose regardless of local priorities.'

Government denies MPs' workforce accusations

The government has denied taking a 'boom or bust' approach to workforce planning.

In a robust response this week to the Commons health select committee's critical report on workforce in March, the government rebuts many of the major complaints made by MPs.

It denies the accusation that there had been 'a disastrous failure of workforce planning', saying: 'The increased NHS capacity has, for example, helped to lower waiting times and the development of new and improved practices.

'There are lessons to learn but we do not accept that there has been a disastrous failure.'

It rebuts other criticisms, saying:

  • There have not been mass job losses, with compulsory redundancies below 1,500.
  • There was no boom and bust but a return to a steady state.
  • Most new health professional graduates are now getting jobs.
  • The NHS is on target to deliver£2.7m in productive time savings by March 2008.