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Nursing places face axe in Poots' bid to save £200m

By Anne Madden

The number of training places for nurses in Northern Ireland could be culled as part of measures to claw back savings for the health service, the Health Minister has revealed.

New DUP minister Edwin Poots stormed into office with the popular announcement that he would reverse the controversial decision of his predecessor and gave the green light for a radiotherapy centre in Londonderry.

However, in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Poots said he is not afraid to make some unpopular decisions to save the NHS £200m, including cutting nurse training places.

Mr Poots said funding the cancer centre at Altnagelvin was not difficult - equating to just 0.075% of the health budget - the bigger issue is finding £200m of savings for the overall health service.

This is despite his predecessor Michael McGimpsey warning that other services would have to be cut to pay for the Derry unit.

But Mr Poots said he hoped to save £30m by increasing the use of generic drugs and £13m through Agenda for Change - the national agreement on pay modernisation in the NHS.

"I've indicated a couple of things which are quite easy hits, but there are other areas that will be more difficult," he said.

"For example, we are currently supporting students at universities for [health] services. I want to make sure that we match those services, that we are not supporting young people to do courses and then exporting those services to other parts of the world.

"There will probably be savings made on those because at this moment in time there are a lot of people coming out of university having done health courses and there are no jobs available for them in Northern Ireland."

Asked which training places will be affected, he said: "Physiotherapists? Yes, even nursing. It will reduce the number of placements but we are looking to get the right figure coming out of university at the end of the day.

"We don't want to go back to a few years ago where we had to bring nurses in from the Philippines, but at the same time we don't want to be in a situation where we are paying to train and educate these people and then they go elsewhere to use the skill."

Janice Smyth, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) director for Northern Ireland, said that she hoped the minister was not basing his assessment on the current situation where health trusts have a vacancy freeze in a bid to save money.

"I would be really concerned if his comments are based on vacancy freezes rather than workforce planning," she said.

"The last workforce plan published in 2008 said there should be no reduction in nurses. We need a strategic vision of how many hospitals and nurses we will need in the future.

"We would agree that it is in nobody's interests to have nurses we don't need, but the RCN is not going back to recruiting nurses from abroad and there is now a global shortage."

F actfile

Areas where the Health Minister wants to save the NHS money:

  • Increased use of generic drugs
  • More use of voluntary/community sector to deliver some services, including mental health and learning disabilities
  • Reduce health training places, including nursing and other allied health professionals
  • Reduce number of Caesarean sections
  • Reduce non-attendance for hospital appointments (costs estimated at £8m-10m)

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