The NHS has significantly scaled back its graduate management scheme amid fears it could be spending millions on trainees who will struggle to find jobs.

Figures provided to HSJ reveal the NHS has almost halved the number of places on its popular management training scheme this year, following plans to slash management costs.

The 90 places on last year’s general management course have been reduced to 60 for September 2010

However, there are also concerns over the future job opportunities for the hundreds of trainees already on the two year course, which costs the NHS around £100,000 per graduate.

Managers in Partnership chief executive Jon Restell said: “We’ve invested a lot of time and money [in the trainees] and now they’re likely to be lost to the NHS unless we can form some sort of bridge.”

He called for a service to be set up centrally that could place management scheme graduates into short term roles, taking advantage of the fact that they are “relatively inexpensive and flexible”.

The figures, provided by the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, which runs the training scheme, show this year 12,000 applicants were left to chase 150 places, compared with 270 places in 2009.

The 90 places on last year’s general management course have been reduced to 60 for September 2010, while places on the finance course have dropped from 65 to 45. Human resources has been hit the hardest, falling from 72 places to 25. As before, there are 20 places on the informatics stream, which is directly funded by the Department of Health’s informatics department.

NHS Institute director of leadership Kate Lobley said the scheme had shrunk in recognition of the tough times ahead and because of loss of funding from strategic health authorities.

She said that as of two weeks ago, 89 per cent of the 2008 cohort qualifying from the scheme this month had found an NHS job, and the rest were “actively seeking” opportunities.

The institute is discussing how it can provide trainees with experiences that fit with the NHS landscape envisaged in the white paper, including a greater emphasis on primary care.