There are growing concerns that nurse education budgets could be vulnerable to cuts in the government’s current spending review.
Health policy experts have warned that the Treasury are planning to redefine the current “ringfence” on health service spending to only apply to NHS England’s budgets, potentially putting billions of pounds earmarked for training and public health at risk from cuts.
“It would be short sighted and very worrying indeed if that supply of skills was put at risk by cuts to education budgets and taking health education out of the NHS”
The results of the government’s 2015 spending review will be published in November, setting out savings it needs to help eliminate the national budget deficit by 2019-20.
Ministers have previously committed to increase NHS spending by £8bn in real terms by 2020-21, meaning health service budgets are protected from cuts in the spending review.
But leading health think-tanks said government officials had indicated that the Treasury was defining protected health service spending as only NHS England’s £101bn budget for commissioning health services.
It would mean other budgets for Department of Health funded organisations, including Public Health England and Health Education England, were not covered by the government’s NHS spending ringfence, they told Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.
Public Health England’s budget is around £3.7bn this year and Health Education England’s budget is £4.9bn.
“If funding is simply cut, we could see wholesale failure of the current workforce education system”
Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said: “Our concern is that the way they have carefully described the ringfence allows them to take large amounts of money out of training, public health, and research and development without breaching their promise on spending on the NHS.”
He suggested, in particular, that one area of education spending that might be vulnerable if unprotected was the provision of bursaries for student nurses.
Anita Charlesworth, chief economist at the Health Foundation, warned that the savings that trusts had already committed to would be “undeliverable” without an effective training and education system to ensure they had enough permanent staff to avoid overspending on agencies.
Meanwhile, King’s Fund chief economist John Appleby highlighted that the Treasury had already cut £200m from council controlled public health budgets this year, in a move billed as a saving on “non-NHS” spending.
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Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the recent £200m cut to public health budgets had “set a worrying precedent”.
“Cutting nurse training, development and bursaries will have very serious consequences for the NHS’s ability to provide high quality care to those who need it,” she told Nursing Times.
“It would be short sighted and very worrying indeed if that supply of skills was put at risk by cuts to education budgets and taking health education out of the NHS,” said Ms Davies.
“We have an ageing population and people live with long term conditions needing expert support. This is not the moment to stop investing in the workforce,” she added.
Professor Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “If funding is simply cut, we could see wholesale failure of the current workforce education system, with huge consequences for NHS workforce shortages.
“The need to move education of the future health workforce away from the annual recurrent funding pressures of the NHS is one of the reasons we’ve called for fundamental, thought-through reform of the way education is funded,” she told Nursing Times.
“The forthcoming spending review will set out how the government will continue to invest in priority public services including the NHS”
A Treasury spokesman said: “The forthcoming spending review will set out how the government will continue to invest in priority public services including the NHS, whilst delivering the further savings required to eliminate Britain’s deficit by 2019-20.”
He added: “The government is committed to delivering security for working people – the economic security of a country that lives within its means and the security that comes from a properly funded National Health Service.
“That’s why we’ve taken action to protect the funding the NHS receives and increase the Department of Health’s budget in real terms year on year,” he said. “We have absolutely no plans to change this.”