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‘Short-sighted’ training cuts are harming nursing workforce

Cuts to ongoing education funding for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals are being implemented with little strategic planning and will harm NHS reforms in the long term, the Council of Deans of Health has warned.

Its new report, ‘A False Economy: Cuts to Continuing Professional Development Funding for nursing, midwifery and the Allied Health Professionals in England’, examines the impact of recent cuts to the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) budget.

The CPD is administered by Health Education England for short courses, modules and programmes designed to meet the needs of the NHS workforce at national, regional and local levels.

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “We urgently need more joined-up thinking about funding for education and training for these professions.

“There is a clear gap between the government’s strategies to transform services by deploying nurses, midwives and AHPs in new roles and these short-sighted cuts. These cuts are difficult for universities but will have a far greater impact on the NHS and its ability to deliver its own objectives.”

All 13 Local Education and Training boards (LETBs) in England reported cuts to their CPD budget in 2016-17, the report said.

These also varied greatly by region, from 13% cuts in the West Midlands to 45% cuts in the north east.

Many university deans also reported only being informed of their funding in late May or early June, forcing them to ‘guesstimate’ their budget when they had already offered students places.

The deans interviewed for the report said that forcing students to self-fund would lead to a substantial drop in applicants. They would be particularly discouraged from training in London, where the cost of living for NHS staff is already extremely expensive.

The report also said that the spending cuts were “at odds” with the Five Year Forward View and General Practice Forward View, both of which require substantial changes to workforce roles.

It called on the government to “recognise the gap” between its priorities for the NHS and the spending cuts.

This should be followed by a national discussion, involving NHS England and NHS Improvement as well as Health Education England and the Department of Health, to develop a strategic approach to funding changes.

Stephanie Aiken, deputy director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This report highlights yet another case of cuts without thought for the impact on staff and patients. Funding for training and development has been cut almost by half, yet the strategy for the health service and the care it delivers has not adapted to reflect this loss.

“If the government wants to achieve the goal of safe and up to date care, it needs to provide the funding for training, development and education – it’s that simple. If the two remain disconnected the health service cannot deliver to current and future needs.”

Dr Myra Stern, director of CPD for the Federation of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the UK, said: "CPD is a vital part of the education and training of any health professional, not an optional extra.  This report from the Council of Deans of Health is worrying on several counts – the likely effect of the budget cuts, the variation in strategic priorities across the country, and the lack of focus on CPD that will transform the way we provide care – we agree that these issues need to be addressed urgently."

Rob Smith, director of planning and strategy, called the report “misleading”, saying CPD is “primarily an employer responsibility”.

“The report refers to our workforce development fund that covers a broad range of investment based on local NHS priorities, some of which has supported specific CPD programmes in addition to employers’ own CPD primary responsibility, but this is not and never has been a CPD-specific budget,” he added.

The Department of Health also recently announced that it is abolishing bursaries for student nurses and other healthcare professionals, leading to warnings that this could cause staff numbers to fall further.

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