Nurse jobs go in cash crisis

STEVE DOWNES New evidence of the financial turmoil in Norfolk's health services emerged last night as UEA's training school for nurses announced redundancies among its teaching staff.

STEVE DOWNES

New evidence of the financial turmoil in Norfolk's health services emerged last night as UEA's training school for nurses announced redundancies among its teaching staff.

The school of nursing and midwifery is laying off 23 people in the next two years because of a government funding cut that has already decimated the number of student nurses and physio-therapists.

Bosses at the school dipped into reserves this year to maintain staffing levels - but in 2007/8 they are making significant cuts as the back-up cash has run out.

The blow was revealed as a powerful Commons committee rounded on the Department of Health (DoH), accusing ministers of having “no firm grasp” of the impact of multi-million pound deficits on local services.

The cross-party public accounts committee's report into financial management in the NHS found the DoH did not have an overall picture of the impact of deficits and said there was a lack of financial management expertise in the NHS.

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Last night Prof Peter Kopelman, dean of UEA's faculty of health, said: “There's considerable unhappiness. But what we have to ensure is that we remain financially viable so we can grow in numbers again in the future.”

He added: “This is something that's been visited on us by the severe financial problems within the NHS. It's a local and a national issue.”

Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridge-shire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) cut funding for new students last year. The number of new adult nursing students was cut from 155 in 2005/6 to 128 this year, while mental health nursing places dropped from 54 to 25 and physiotherapy places were down from 50 to 30.

The numbers are expected to remain at around the same level in the coming years, but last year's cut is now taking effect on staffing levels.

In a letter to staff, Prof Kopelman said funding for student numbers in the coming year had not been confirmed by the SHA, but said “we believe they will remain at 2006/7 levels”.

He said 19 full-time equivalent academic posts would go in 2007/8 and four more in 2008/9.

Prof Kopelman said financial difficulties in the NHS meant there was currently a shortage of jobs for newly-qualified nurses to go into.

But he added: “The concern must be that there will be a shortfall of people in training to fill the large number of vacant posts further down the line.”

Meanwhile the MPs on the PAC attacked the Government's handling of NHS finances, including contracts, as the health services continued in the spotlight of political clashes.

One of its members, South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon, said: “The real impact of these deficits is being felt locally, where services are being cut and investment in much-needed facilities such as Diss Medical Centre is being put on hold.

“Unfortunately, this isn't registering in Whitehall, where there is limited information about redundancies, closures and abandoned capital programmes.

“It is hard to reconcile the huge sums of money that have been thrown at the NHS with the fact that many trusts are in the red.”

A report from the respected health think-tank, the King's Fund, has also highlighted the extent to which the billions poured into the NHS by New Labour has been eaten up in higher salaries and pensions for health professionals rather than improving front-line services.