The Department of Health is making decisions on spending reductions with great regret. Like all Departments, we find ourselves in the impossible position of having to fulfil conflicting responsibilities. These include living within the budget we have been given, acting in the public interest and safeguarding services. This is not a circle that we can square.
Simply ignoring financial constraints is not a realistic option, and not just because it would be in breach of legal or professional responsibilities. Any overspend this year would simply mean even greater budgetary pressures next year.
The Department fully understands the concerns being expressed about the decision to limit new nursing student places to 1025 this year.
The 1025 total was the funded baseline figure in place by 2020. It represented a significant increase on the average achieved over preceding years.
It was increased in 2020 as the New Decade New Approach agreement pledged to deliver an extra 900 nursing and midwifery undergraduate places over a three year period. This involved a further 300 per year on top of the 1025 baseline, rising to 1335 places. Those three years are now complete and no additional funding has been provided to maintain the extra 300 places this year.
As well as maintaining the baseline 1025 total, the Department will look to expand nursing places in future if the funding permits.
Further details on cost saving measures will be provided in the coming days, when a Departmental Equality Impact Assessment on the budget will be issued for public consultation.
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