Universities are considering scrapping nursing courses due to uncertainty over future funding, education leaders have claimed.
Meanwhile, a legal expert has warned that Local Education and Training Boards (LETBs) are at risk of breaching their contracts with universities by failing to boost funding for nursing degrees.
It is the latest twist in fraught negotiations between the university sector and Health Education England, which has been accused of taking a “crazy risk” with the future of the nursing profession by attempting to impose a 4% real terms cut in funding for nursing courses.
“We’re really worried universities will wonder whether it’s worth doing, because it looks like they may not cover costs”
The legal advice (see PDF top-right) was sought by the Councils of Deans of Health and Universities UK, which are fighting the proposed cuts on behalf of universities that offer nursing and midwifery courses.
Although a new academic year is about to start, the two bodies and HEE have failed to agree a benchmark price – the nationally agreed amount of money universities get for each nursing place – and contracts have simply been rolled over.
However, LETBs have continued to pay a flat rate without adding an agreed “uplift” in line with inflation. In his advice, leading barrister James Goudie QC argued that the uplift should continue to apply to the majority of contracts.
Professor Steve West, chair of Universities UK’s health education and policy research network, said Mr Goudie’s opinion “makes it clear the government must honour its contracts with the higher education sector, including on price”.
Council of Deans chair Dame Jessica Corner said the ongoing stalemate in negotiations was causing “frustration” and claimed universities were beginning to think about scrapping courses.
“With the uncertainty and very real threat of significant funding cuts to education of nurses…, we’re really worried universities will wonder whether it’s worth doing, because it looks like they may not cover costs,” she told Nursing Times.
“We’ve been consulting members in the council and all kinds of universities [are] beginning to think twice,” she said.
Another university representative accused HEE of taking a “crazy risk”, given that many trusts were already shortage of nursing staff. “If three, four or five large providers decide not to provide courses it would have a disastrous impact on future supply of qualified nurses,” said the source.
Health Education England spokeswoman said: “The senior teams of universities representatives and HEE representatives are meeting on the 8 September to discuss and agree the future of the benchmark price.
“We will not be able to make any further comment until this meeting has taken place.”