Concerns have been raised that funding for nurses to train in postgraduate roles, including health visitors, school nurses and district nurses, will no longer be available from next year.
As part of the government’s plans to reform healthcare education funding, Nursing Times understands money provided for post-registration specialist nurse training in 2017-18 could be removed.
“There is a significant risk that patient safety will be compromised”
Nursing Times understands that although no formal plans have been drawn up, Department of Health officials are in discussions about the possibility of introducing a loans system instead, or the use of higher-level apprenticeships – funded through a new levy on employers.
Nurse leaders warned that if these changes went ahead it would deter nurses from training and would have a “catastrophic impact” on specialist nursing, threatening workforce planning and risking patient safety.
They also criticised the lack of clarity around the government’s plans for funding these courses in the future and called for a full consultation.
Currently, nurses who want to train in specialist roles can have their courses paid for by the government through workforce planning body Health Education England.
“This is high risk. It is an untested gamble”
Leading nurses said if loans were introduced many would not be able to afford them, especially if they already had debts from their pre-registration education under the government’s bursary removal plans.
They said it would leave employers to foot the bill or for nurses to self-fund specialist courses – which are usually one or two years in length and can cost thousands of pounds. But NHS trusts were themselves under severe financial pressure and had limited training budgets, they said.
They said the plans could represent the biggest change in nurse education in more than 15 years and would have an impact across the NHS.
Crystal Oldman, chief executive of community nursing association the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said: “If there is no money in the system for community qualifications, for district nursing, health visiting, school nursing, community children’s, advanced practice, independent prescribing – if that all now has to come from the employer – where will that leave patient safety?
“An open debate and consultation needs to take place on the impact of the alternative ways of funding these programmes and securing a future for the development of specialist and advances practice in the nursing workforce – or there is a significant risk that patient safety will be compromised,” she said.
Dame Donna Kinnair, director of nursing policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “This is high risk. It is an untested gamble.
”You don’t know who is going to sign up for health visiting or school nursing or other specialities if they have to take out loans,” she said. ”They will go to where they want – not necessarily where the needs are.”
“Under this move, they could be turning the clock back”
Gail Adams, head of nursing at Unison, added that if the plans were introduced they would have a “catastrophic” impact on the number of nurses across all specialist roles, noting in particular recent boosts to the health visiting workforce could be reversed.
“The irony is when the coalition government came in they made a pledge to increase the number of health visitors. Under this move, they could be turning the clock back,” she said.
Dame Donna Kinnair
“Organisations won’t be able afford to pay for specialist nurse training. NHS organisations have an extraordinarily limited training budget to fund any additional programmes themselves,” said Ms Adams.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the government was working with HEE and other organisations to consider how the delivery models and funding options for specialist courses aligned with the future system.
He said: “There are currently no plans to change funding for postgraduate post-registration nurse qualifications. HEE will fund current training commissions as set out in its workforce plan for 2016-17, and is expected to outline 2017-18 training commissions in December 2016.”