Primary care trusts have been warned not to rely on pharmaceutical companies to provide education for practice nurses.

The warning came after an investigation by HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times found only a minority of PCTs provide a dedicated scheme themselves.

Nursing Times asked 100 PCTs how practice nurse training was funded, receiving 52 responses. Only 15 had a dedicated, ringfenced, practice nurse education scheme. The rest said training was the responsibility of GPs.

More than half said they were happy for the pharmaceutical industry to be involved, from paying for text books, conference travel and accommodation, to funding courses.

Senior health figures have warned the reliance on drugs firms for training risks biasing clinical decisions and creating skills gaps in areas of low commercial interest.

Royal College of GPs president Steve Field said GPs and PCTs should not shirk their obligations to provide appropriate training. He warned pharmaceutical industry support and funding for nurse training “could lead to undue bias which could affect prescribing”.

Some NHS organisations are forging official alliances. NHS Liverpool is planning formal talks with pharmaceutical companies to see if they can suggest ways of meeting practice nurses’ learning requirements.

PCT head of quality for nursing Lynda Carey said the move was “a result of the times we are living in”.

But Queen’s Nursing Institute director Rosemary Cook said drug companies’ motives should be questioned: “There could be a veil of naivety over this which says ‘because times are hard we will have to drop our standards’.”

Several SHAs, including NHS North West, are also discussing more joint working with the industry on patient care, training and education.

NHS North West chief executive Mike Farrar said: “This isn’t about doing something cheap and nasty, it’s about trying to recognise that the two sectors can get mutual benefit from working together better.”

He added: “There are potential risks and I don’t think we should rely on the pharmaceutical industry for what should be mainstream education budgets.”

In PCT areas where funding is made available, the size of training budgets varies dramatically, from £25,000 in 2010-11 at NHS Bromley to £250,000 at NHS Leicestershire County and Rutland.