Northern Ireland

Nurse training fund cut in Northern Ireland is reversed

Nurse Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The fund allows for already trained nurses to specialise in other areas

The Department of Health has reversed its decision to cut money from a training fund for specialist nurses in Northern Ireland, the BBC has learned.

About £1m was axed last week, which led to health unions and student nurses condemning the move.

There were warnings that the health service and, in particular, patients would suffer as a result of cuts to the service.

The fund allows for already-trained nurses to specialise in other areas.

This includes liver disease, neo-natal training and endoscopy procedures and district nursing.

Advanced life-support resuscitation would also be affected.

On the day of the decision, the former health minister Michelle O'Neill reacted on social media.

Using her Twitter account, Mrs O'Neill said the move "flies in the face of transforming health and social care".

'New model of care'

Mrs O'Neill said that instead there is a need to invest in the workforce.

As reported by the BBC, those in charge of training nurses had requested about £10m from the Department of Health. However, they received about £8.2m instead.

Sources told the BBC that amount was cut even further and while reinstating about £1m is better than nothing, there is still a funding gap of about £550,000.

The Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Nursing, Janice Smyth, said no-one had contacted her about the cuts or about the move to reinstate the money.

Speaking to the BBC, Ms Smyth said it was not a complete reversal as she understood that £1.8m had been cut from the education fund.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said funding of £1.3m will be provided towards the education and training spend for post-registration nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals.

They said this would 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 as set out in Delivering Together".

"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," they added.

"This is key to being able to deliver a new model of sustainable care."

In jeopardy

The University of Ulster, which runs the training programme, says it remains extremely concerned for both patient safety and the availability of a skilled healthcare workforce.

According to the university, the budget for specialist nurses remains short by £640,000 - a 41% cut.

That means specialist courses such as stroke management, diabetes care and others may be in jeopardy.

A spokesperson said it had met with the Department of Health and intended to continue working to secure a more positive outcome.

Meanwhile, Queen's University School of Nursing and Midwifery says it continues to face a £500,000 funding cut to its training budget.

That will mean a 50% reduction in student places, according to a spokesperson.

Prof Donna Fitzsimons said: "The proposed funding cuts potentially impact on Queen's specialist practice programmes which span areas such as peri-operative nursing (22 places), health assessment (16 places) and nursing care of the critically ill child (12 places), and, as such, their potential to save lives and improve outcomes for patient care should not be overlooked."

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