The country’s only national centre for nursing research has been dealt a blow to its future survival, following a decision by the Department of Health to end funding it.
The DH will cease funding the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London at the end of the year, removing its main source of financial support.
The decision by the DH has been criticised by academics who argue that the work of the unit is vital in supporting nurses at a time when the profession is under ever increasing pressure to meet government policies on quality and efficiency.
The NNRU, which celebrated its 35th birthday last week, was set up in 1977 by the DH to conduct independent research into key areas of nursing policy.
Most recently it has been involved in work to support the government’s health visitor strategy and was a key partner in the Europe-wide RN4CAST study into factors affecting the nursing workforce.
It is one of a dozen national policy research units, working across health and social care, but the only one for nursing. It was traditionally awarded five-year contracts by the DH’s Policy Research Programme through a competitive tender process.
The NNRU was awarded its last £2.5m contract in 2007, which ended this month. However, the DH has offered no new contract for research into workforce or nursing issues, making it impossible for the unit to bid for a new programme of government work.
It was recently awarded a three-month extension, worth £10,000, to complete its current work for the DH but from the start of next year, it will have to secure alternative sources of funding to ensure its long-term survival.
Peter Griffiths, professor of health services research at the University of Southampton and former director of the unit, said it was a “great shame” the DH had decided not to re-commission a nursing workforce research programme.
“It’s the only unit of its type,” he told Nursing Times. “Does that mean the nursing workforce is no longer a priority?
“It’s very ironic that that should be the case at a time when so much is being asked of the nursing workforce to deliver improvements and efficiencies on the QIPP [quality, innovation, productivity and prevention] agenda,” he said.
Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton added: “With nursing care in the spotlight and quality under immense pressure from financial savings this is a time like no other when nursing needs cutting edge research.”
The unit’s current director, Jill Maben, thanked King’s College London for its “on-going support to allow us to continue the important work of the unit and secure more funding in the forthcoming 18 months”.