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Partial u-turn for Northern Ireland specialist nurse training funding

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Cuts to specialist training for nurses in Northern Ireland have been partially reversed, but universities say student numbers will still be hit.

The Department of Health confirmed late on Monday that £1.3million of funding would be added to the 2017-18 budget for post-registration training courses for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals.

”Although we welcome the department’s decision…the scale of the remaining cut of over £640,000 will still result in significant skills shortfalls”

Ulster University spokeswoman

The move comes after widespread criticism of the department’s decision to reduce funding which it was claimed could see up to a 60% cut for some university programmes including those for health visitors, school nurses and district nurses.

Despite the announcement of £1.3 million being returned to the budget, universities have said they will still be left with a funding shortfall that will affect the numbers of nurses able to complete advanced training.

Queen’s University, Belfast – one of the two universities affected - said its school of nursing and midwifery was still left facing a £0.5million funding cut to specialist practice programmes compared with last year, which would result in a 50% reduction in student places.

“We are disappointed by this funding news and are deeply concerned by the impact it will have on the delivery of safe and effective care to the sickest people in our hospitals and community – such as those who are critically ill with cancer and heart disease as well as people with dementia, mental health issues and children requiring palliative care,” said head of school Professor Donna Fitzsimons.

“We are currently investing heavily in nursing and midwifery and I am concerned that this decision potentially jeopardises these posts. The university has already sought urgent clarification on the basis of the cuts and the decision-making process in the reallocation of resources,” she added in a statement.

”We are currently investing heavily in nursing and midwifery and I am concerned that this decision potentially jeopardises these posts”

Professor Donna Fitzsimons

The university said the proposed cuts would potentially hit specialist practice programmes spanning peri-operative nursing, health assessment and nursing care for critically ill children.

Other courses affected include tissue viability nursing, working with people with dementia, palliative care for children and families, and sexual health.

“Without skilled nurses in these areas there is a risk to the wellbeing of patients and the achievement of key targets within health trusts,” said Professor Fitzsimons.

“This action seems to cut right across the clearly stated direction of travel of improving primary care outlined by the Northern Ireland Assembly,” she added.

As reported previously, Ulster University was also due to be hit by the budget cuts, which represented a reduction of almost 60% for its specialist nursing courses.

Following confirmation that some of its funding would be reinstated, the university said it welcomed the decision but noted this would still lead to a decrease in the amount of specialist nurse training it would be able to provide.

“We have met with the Department of Health to outline our concerns for both patient safety and the availability of a skilled healthcare workforce,” said an Ulster University spokeswoman.

“Although we welcome the department’s decision to reinstate a small portion of the £1 million removed from our post-registration nursing budget, the scale of the remaining cut of over £640,000 will still result in significant skills shortfalls in areas of stroke care, diabetes management and a return to practice course which is essential for encouraging and supporting nurses back into work after career breaks,” she said.

It is understood that emergency talks took place on Monday between government health officials in Northern Ireland and representatives from each of the region’s health trusts about the funding reductions.

The Royal College of Nursing in Northern Ireland said it not been directly involved in discussions about the education budget, but understood that – until the this latest turn of events – the amount available was cut from £10million to £6.47million for 2017-18.

”The RCN is concerned that these cuts have been made without proper consultation, engagement, or due regard for impact and risk assessment”

Janice Smyth

“It is our understanding that there was £10 million made available last year for 2016-2017,” director Janice Smyth said in a statement.

“The amount available for 2017-2018 was reduced to £8.27 million. A further reduction was made when the budget was reduced by an additional £1.8 million, bringing the budget to £6.47 million.

“In recent days concerns have been raised about the impact of these cuts on the ability of the nursing and midwifery workforce to provide the care required to patients and clients,” she said.

“The Department of Health has confirmed that £1.3 million has been redirected to the nursing and midwifery education budget and anecdotally this leaves a £500,000 deficit,” added Ms Smyth.

“The final revised funding position…is to be welcomed in view of the importance of continuing to invest in training our workforce”

Department of Health spokeswoman

“The RCN is concerned that these cuts have been made without proper consultation, engagement, or due regard for impact and risk assessment,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health confirmed an additional £1.3 million would be provided for post-registration training and education of nurses, midwives and AHPs.

“This will be prioritised to support clinical practice across a range of acute and community areas including health visiting, district nursing and cancer nursing programmes, in line with the department’s transformation agenda,” she said.

“As previously indicated, the department is seeking to balance the very many demands and considerations of the wider health and social care system, within the context of a very fluid position.

“The final revised funding position is possible as a consequence of changes in expenditure needs in other areas, and is to be welcomed in view of the importance of continuing to invest in training our workforce. This is key to being able to deliver a new model of sustainable care,” added the spokeswoman.

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