Nurse cash used to cut hospital debts; HEALTH: Bosses come under fire for siphoning off pounds 13m a year from training fund.
HEALTH bosses have been raiding a nurse's training fund to clear millions of pounds of debts from crisis-hit hospitals in the Midlands.
Birmingham and the Black Country Health Authority has set aside up to pounds 13 million a year from the fund for the past three years to balance the books at the end of the year.
In return, the authority has received praise from Whitehall for not going into the red.
But the Royal College of Nursing and Audit Commission today criticized the move with fears thhat cutting back on training would bring standards down, affecting patient care.
Barbara Tassa, Royal College of Nursing spokeswoman for the West Midlands, said: "Staff need to hear about education and research to develop and maintain the quality of patient care."
Mrs Tassa, manager of Selly Oak Hospital's fracture clinic, added: "To deliver the best possible care you need to invest in staff, so taking away money from training is extremely concerning."
Money has been saved from the workforce development directorate (WDD) - cash sent from the Department of Health to train Midland medical staff.
The surplus from the this fund was pounds 2m in 2004, pounds 9m last year and is expected to be pounds 13m this year - with the largest saving of pounds 4.6m from nursing training.
Andy Reid, from the Audit Commission, said the cash was purposely saved to pay off hospital debts, including pounds 7.8m at Sandwell and City Hospitals, pounds 3.5m at Good Hope Hospital and pounds 9m at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton last year.
Mr Reid said: "Our discussions with officers indicate the underspends are intentional, used to secure financial balance rather than from inadequate budgets.
"We understand the need to secure balance, but there may be a risk that resources are not being used for their intended purpose and training may not be adequately resourced.
"A question the health authority needs to ask itself is whether this underspend is an appropriate way of managing debts across the patch."
The Health Authority trust board said it would take on board comments by the Audit Commission.
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