Training cuts have been so severe in the wake of the NHS financial crisis that staff at a single health authority lost out on £20m worth of training and development last year, it has emerged.
Hampshire and the Isle of Wight strategic health authority left the huge sum unspent to reduce its overall 2005-06 budget deficit.
This was the largest of many training under-spends that came to light when a group of MPs carried out their end-of-year report on the NHS.
The Commons Select Committee found that bosses had clawed the cash back to reduce a health service budget deficit that now stands at £547m.
“Savings from the workforce budget and the education and training budget have made the major contribution to reducing deficits,” said the report. “We were told that these cuts will only last for a short time, but no guarantee was given.”
Unions slammed the cuts. James Johnson, chairman of council at the British Medical Association, said: “Too many health authorities are raiding training budgets as a quick fix to their financial problems.
“Junior doctors are being prevented from taking essential courses in subjects like advanced life-saving, and vital academic posts in medical schools are at risk.”
As well as putting patient care at risk, the cuts have also reduced staff morale, according to Johnson.
Hampshire and the Isle of Wight has since merged with Thames Valley to form the NHS South Central strategic health authority.
Judy Curson, assistant director of workforce and organisation development at NHS South Central, said: “These are always difficult decisions to make, but this is one which helps ensure the local NHS works within the money it is allocated, and that key front-line services are maintained.”