Emergency talks are understood to be taking place today to discuss the impact of cuts to funding for specialist nursing courses in Northern Ireland.
The decision to slash more than £1 million from the University of Ulster’s budget for post-registration training for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals has sparked outrage among nursing leaders, educators and healthcare providers, who say it will have a direct impact on the delivery of frontline health services.
“We are extremely disappointed with the Department of Health decision to cut Ulster University’s budget for post-registration education”
University of Ulster spokeswoman
The move, revealed by the Department of Health last month, represents an almost 60% reduction in funding for the university’s advanced healthcare courses - including health visitor, district nurse and school nurse programmes.
Nursing Times understands it would also affect specialist training for nurses in areas including liver disease, neonatal care, endoscopy and advanced life support.
The University of Ulster said the cuts would mean training places for health visitors dropping from 63 this year to just 20 in 2017/18, while the number of district nurse training places would be halved.
“We are extremely disappointed with the Department of Health decision to cut Ulster University’s budget allocation for post-registration education in relation to nursing and allied health professions by 58%,” said a spokeswoman for the university.
“This equates to a cut in excess of £1million which is vital to the training and continued development of the future nursing and healthcare.
“The current financial climate has necessitated taking very difficult decisions”
Department of Health
“At a time where budgets are being prioritised to divert resources in support of frontline services, this decision to cut the budget for critical professional healthcare courses is counter-intuitive,” she added.
The university said it was seeking an urgent meeting with the Department of Health.
Nursing Times approached Queen’s University, Belfast to find out if its funding had also been cut but did not receive a response.
Meanwhile former health minister Michelle O’Neill is among those calling for the cuts to be “reversed immediately”.
She told The Irish News the cuts were at odds with plans to allocate a district nurse and health visitors to every GP practice in Northern Ireland and the “clear need” to increase the healthcare workforce to meet demand.
“Cutting resources for specialist training for nurses goes against this,” she said.
A meeting between government health officials in Northern Ireland and representatives from each of the region’s health trusts, including directors of nursing, is due to take place today, according to the newspaper.
The Department of Health has previously defended the move saying “difficult decisions” had to be made.
“The current financial climate has necessitated taking very difficult decisions to balance the very many demands and considerations of the wider health and social care system within the constraints of the financial resource available,” it said in a statement provided to the BBC last week.
“This is not a problem that is limited to Northern Ireland, but is symptomatic of the wider threat to post-registration training and CPD in the UK”
It said the available budget for nursing, midwifery and allied health professional education and training for 2017-18 had “been prioritised to fund areas of clinical practice that are strategically important and which minimise impact on direct care”.
The Council of Deans of Health, which represents university nursing and midwifery departments across the UK, said the proposed reduction in funding reflected similar problems in Britain.
“This is not a problem that is limited to Northern Ireland, but is symptomatic of the wider threat to post-registration training and continuing professional development in the UK.
“Specialised roles such as health visiting and district nursing face great uncertainty in terms of future funding which does not reflect the urgent need to provide patient care closer to home,” said Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans.
She said the organisation was calling on the government to “address the disconnect between strategic priorities and actual levels of investment in post-registration education,” with input from universities.