Trusts will be restricted from plundering nurses’ training funds after the government backed calls to “protect” education budgets.
Senior figures have told Nursing Times the move could see an end to the £5bn NHS training budget being treated as an easy target for cuts.
The government’s full response to the NHS Future Forum report, published last week, said it agreed with those who felt that education and training funding should be “protected”.
It said “transparent systems” would be established to ensure “organisations in receipt of education and training money are held to account for using it for the education and training of the NHS workforce”.
A national education and training outcomes framework will be developed, setting out expectations on providers, and health secretary Andrew Lansley will be placed under “an explicit duty…to maintain a system for professional education and training”.
Many clinical leaders are interpreting the proposals to mean that training budgets funding will be ring-fenced. A spokesman for the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said that while the government “hasn’t used the words ’ring-fenced budget’” in its response this week, “that’s clearly the implication”.
Royal College of Nursing acting education advisor Gill Robertson agreed, saying: “I’m hoping that if education and training funding is to be protected that it means exactly that.”
But she questioned who would hold providers to account and emphasised that Health Education England, which from April 2013 will allocate training money and oversee how it is spent, needed “teeth”.
Ms Robertson also highlighted the fact that places on pre-registration nursing courses had been cut this year and said it was no good ring-fencing the budget while reducing the overall funding pot.
There are no figures on how much of the £5bn multi-professional education and training budget (MPET) – of which about £2bn is for “non-medical” staff - is spent in the way it is intended. But anecdotally it is widely agreed that the money is often diverted to other areas, especially when finances are tight.
University of the West of England pro vice-chancellor and executive dean Helen Langton, a former nurse, said: “Some trusts spend it on what it’s meant to be spent on but it can be easy to divert and hide the money.”
Three years ago, Nursing Times’ Time Out for Training campaign won guarantees from seven of the 10 strategic health authorities, which are in charge of distributing the money, to invest MPET budgets entirely in training during 2008-09.
But analysis by Nursing Times last month showed in 2010-11 SHAs underspent MPET budgets by hundreds of millions of pounds and training money was being used to meet the government’s pledge to recruit 4,200 health visitors.
Council of Deans of Health policy director Matthew Hamilton said: “SHAs are allocated part of the MPET budget but it’s not always exactly clear how much of that is spent on education and training.”
The proposals in the government document would “make it much clearer how much is spent [on education] and on what it is spent,” he said.
The plans will be set out in more detail this autumn.
Meanwhile, Nursing Times has discovered this week that money from the “non medical education fund” – much of which is meant to support pre-registration nurses’ training – is being used to compensate trusts for training junior doctors on placements.
In South East Coast, £1.2m of NMET money is being diverted for this purpose.
This is despite the fact that pre-registration nursing placements are already underfunded nationally by around £400m a year, while undergraduate medical placements are overfunded by around £120m.
Ms Robertson said it was unacceptable for NMET to be used “for propping up medical staff”.
An SHA spokeswoman said: “These monies are not ring-fenced for individual training streams, and the SHA makes funding decisions…to ensure the best outcomes for the NHS in the South East Coast.”
How the government plans to “protect” training:
*Transparent systems to hold organisations to account for spending money on education and training
*National education and training outcomes framework to set out expectations on providers
*”Explicit duty” for the health secretary to maintain a system for professional education and training
*Health Education England to be launched in April 2013 to allocate training funds to local “networks” of trusts and oversee how money is spent.
*The government will “emphasise the importance of the right investment in education and training” to ensure the right values, behaviours and team-working are developed.