Plans to merge three clinical education advisory bodies have sparked fears that future nurse training needs will be overlooked in favour of doctors’ requirements.
Nursing Times has learnt officials are drawing up plans to create a special health authority called Health Education England to oversee education and training across all clinical professions, including nurses.
Doctors’ body Medical Education England would be merged with the allied health professional advisory board and the nursing and midwifery professional advisory board.
Medical Education England, which covers medicine, dentistry, pharmacy and healthcare science, is by far the largest of the three bodies that would be absorbed into Health Education England.
As a result, insiders have told Nursing Times, medical education is likely to dominate the new organisation, warning that the nursing and midwifery component could be merely a “subcommittee”.
Behind the scenes, nurse educators have been lobbying hard to be treated as equals in the planned body.
Council of Deans of Health chair Sue Bernhauser said: “We support a merger of these three bodies, not Medical Education England looking after the rest of us. We have had to have some discussions with the Department of Health about it.”
The merger proposal is contained in a draft consultation on NHS education and training - which builds on the government’s health white paper Liberating the NHS - and is expected to be made public in mid December.
Although the views of NHS staff will be sought on the proposals, the idea of creating one health education body is said to have strong government support already.
As a special health authority, Health Education England would need a chair, non executive directors and a chief executive.
Ms Bernhauser said, if anything, nurses should have “more seats on the board” than doctors, because they comprise a greater proportion of the NHS workforce.
Nursing and midwifery professional advisory board co-chair Helen Langton said it “would be daft” to pretend there was no risk of medics taking precedence. But with some “key players” to “bat for nurses”, a more integrated approach could work.
Nursing Times has been told Health Education England would be responsible for allocating £4-5bn funding.
The dominance of medical staff in education funding was highlighted by Nursing Times in January, when the DH delayed for the second year running reforms to the way clinical placements are valued - a pledge by former health minister Lord Darzi in 2008 (news, page 1, 19 January).
As a result, pre-registration nursing training has continued to be underfunded by £400m a year, while undergraduate medical placements are overfunded by around £120m.
NHS Ealing director of quality, clinical governance and clinical practice Ursula Gallagher said nurses needed to have a “strong voice” to ensure a level playing field with medical education, which “already has a more structured, better system”.
She added: “The implications of the financial pressures mean that future investment could be threatened. Nurses should be at the forefront of arguing for education because it is vital to sustaining safe and effective care whilst doing things differently.”
Anxiety about the new education body is likely to add to existing concerns that the government is not prioritising nurses in its reform programme. These have focused in particular on the creation of GP led commissioning consortia, which will take over control of how the NHS spends the bulk of its funding in April 2013.