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Leicester University Medical School (Funding)

Volume 453: debated on Thursday 23 November 2006

9. What funding the Higher Education Funding Council has allocated for training doctors at the Leicester University of Leicester medical school for 2006-07. (102291)

The Higher Education Funding Council for England allocated £61 million to the University of Leicester for 2006-07, which is an increase of 4 per cent. over the previous year. The allocation of that funding within the university is a matter for the institution.

I am delighted by the increase from the HEFC, but unfortunately—as the Minister will know—funding is a joint responsibility between the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills. The NHS is cutting the training and education budget by 10 per cent., which professors at the University of Leicester medical school have described as ridiculously short-sighted and seriously damaging. Will the Minister please get in touch with his colleagues at the Department of Health and, if I may use the expression, get a grip on the Secretary of State for Health and ensure continuous and sustained support for university medical education in Leicester and elsewhere?

I understand the concerns about the Department of Health reductions. It is working with the Council of Deans to understand the exact impact of those reductions on training and education throughout the country. We are working closely with our ministerial colleagues on the issue and I certainly understand the issue that has been put to me directly about the right and ability of universities to plan for the longer term. I hope that we can deliver that. Despite the challenges, we have had a 71 per cent. increase in medical undergraduate numbers since 1997, which contrasts very favourably with the 50 per cent. cut in the nurse training programme that took place in the early 1990s.

I share some of the concerns that have been expressed by the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). The medical school in Leicester is one of the finest in the country. Has my hon. Friend the Minister received an explanation from the Department of Health about why the new, state of the art medical school will be moved from its proposed site at the Leicester general hospital in my constituency to the Granby Hall site, because of a reduction of £200 million in the pathway project? Will he give us an assurance that the funding from his Department will not alter, despite the fact that the Department of Health is cutting money in particular area?

I know that my right hon. Friend takes a close interest in these issues, but I am not aware of the specific details of the point he makes. I would be happy to meet him to discuss the issue. Leicester university is relatively badly affected as a newer medical school, as it receives a greater proportion of its funding for staff from the NHS rather than from the HEFC. I understand the concern and I am talking to colleagues in the Department of Health so that we can ensure greater predictability of funding in the longer term for universities.

May I inform the Minister that the suddenness and savagery of the cuts are affecting not only the University of Leicester university medical school but many other universities? The cuts are breaking contracts that they have with the NHS and disappointing thousands of nursing students who have invested time and money only to find that there are no jobs for them. Above all, the cuts are making it inevitable that there will be a critical shortage of nurses in a few years’ time. Does the Minister agree that the mismanagement of the funding is bad for nurses, doctors, universities and, above all, patients?

There are issues involved, but we need to learn from the experience of what happened in the early 1990s when the cuts in the nurse training programme make what is happening now pale in comparison. We learned from that experience and that is why I am in discussion with my colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that we have stability and predictability for future funding patterns. I am determined that we will achieve that.