Belfast Telegraph

Nurse training £1m budget cut partially reversed by Health Department

By Michael Sheils McNamee

The Department of Health has partially reversed a decision to slash the budget for specialist training for nurses after coming under a barrage of criticism.

Funding of £1.3 million will be added to the budget for training programmes for post-registration nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals.

A 58% cut had been due to hit advanced courses at both the University of Ulster and Queen's, with an impact on district nurses and school nurses predicted.

Representatives from the two universities and Unite trade union had warned of a "drastic" impact on health care in the province.

Services that will benefit from the funding for additional specialised training include health visiting, district nursing, and cancer nursing programmes.

An original budget request was made for £8.4 million for post-registration nursing and midwifery training. The Department of Health had initially made £6.4 million available - £1.8 million less than what had been requested.

Out of the £1.8 million shortfall, it had looked like £1 million was going to be lost from Ulster University's specialist training for nurses.

Out of the additional £1.3 million announced, the budget for specialised nursing and midwifery training will receive £1.25 million, with the rest going to the budget for training allied health professionals.

Combined, £8.9 million had been requested for post-registration training for nursing, midwifery, and allied health professionals, and £6.9 million was made available - £2 million less than the minimum requested.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Health said: "As previously indicated, the Department is seeking to balance the very many demands and considerations of the wider health and social care system, within the context of a very fluid position.

"The final revised funding position is possible as a consequence of changes in expenditure needs in other areas, and is to be welcomed in view of the importance of continuing to invest in training our workforce.

"This is key to being able to deliver a new model of sustainable care."

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, Director of the Royal College of Nursing Janice Smyth, the representative body for Northern Ireland’s nurses, said that her organisation had not been involved in discussions with the Department about the education budget for nurses and midwives.

“In recent days concerns have been raised about the impact of these cuts on the ability of the nursing and midwifery workforce to provide the care required to patients and clients.

“The Department of Health has confirmed that £1.3 million has been redirected to the nursing and midwifery education budget and anecdotally this leaves a £500,000 deficit. At this point the RCN is not aware of the implications of this shortfall for nursing and midwifery education.

“The Royal College of Nursing is concerned that these cuts have been made without proper consultation, engagement, or due regard for impact and risk assessment.”

The decision to increase the training budget has been welcomed by the SDLP's spokesperson on health, Mark H Durkan, who said the decision to cut the budget "was ill-thought and would have critically damaged front line provision in hospitals, GP surgeries and in communities across the North".

“It’s positive that the Department of Health seems to have responded to the universal political opposition to the decision."

Durkan added that he had written to the Department of Health's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly about the issue, and had concerns that decisions around funding were not being communicated directly with the Royal College of Nursing.

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