The Government has broken its promise to invest £5m in the Nursing Now programme, which delivers nursing and midwifery training in developing countries.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) committed the cash to the global training scheme in 2018, to ensure the campaign could continue to 2024. But the investment was abruptly cancelled on 28 April in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The funding would have allowed NHS nurses and midwives to support thousands of healthcare workers abroad – in Nepal, Myanmar, Uganda, Zambia, Ethiopia, Somalia/Somaliland, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Ghana and Sierra Leone – including on community mental health, neonatal care and trauma.
It comes as part of £48m in cuts announced earlier this month to the UK Partnerships for Health Systems (UKPHS) programme. UKHPS gives grants to health partnerships across professions abroad including nursing, midwifery, medicine and physiotherapy.
The Tropical Health and Education Trust (THET), which runs the UKPHS and supports the Nursing Now campaign, said the £5m loss is a ‘devastating blow’ to countries across Africa and Asia.
‘Cancelling funding aimed at supporting the development of nurses and midwives, at a time when we are all too aware of the vital global role they play, is disastrous and insulting,’ said THET chair of trustees and nurse Professor Judith Ellis.
‘This decision must be reversed to show nurses and midwives the respect and recognition they deserve, and to ensure communities across the world are equipped to tackle future pandemics and public health crises,’ she added.
The FCDO confirmed the funding for nurses and midwives abroad had been cancelled on 18 May, in response to a question from THET.
Wendy Morton MP, FCDO parliamentary under-secretary, replied: ‘With the closure of the UK Partnerships for Health Systems programme, we will not meet the commitment to allocate £5 million to support the development of nurses and midwives.’
RCN interim director of nursing, policy and public affairs Jude Diggins said: ‘It is extremely disappointing the Government is turning its back on its own commitments to nurses and midwives in some of the poorest countries in the world, at a time when they need more support than ever.’
Nursing Now was opened in 2018 by the Duchess of Cambridge to improve healthcare in developing nations by raising the status and profile of the nursing profession, and provide training. In 2020, over 700 employers provided training for more than 30,000 early career nurses and midwives as part of it.
The funding cut comes after chancellor Rishi Sunak announced in November last year that the UK Government would reduce overseas aid funding from 0.7% to 0.5% of national income for 2021.
In March, the UK widened its recruitment to include nurses from over a hundred countries where it had previously banned active recruitment campaigns. The RCN warned the Government at the time that it must ensure its international recruitment practices are ‘transparent, clear and fair’.
An FCDO spokesperson said: ‘The seismic impact of the pandemic on the UK economy has forced us to take tough but necessary decisions, including temporarily reducing the overall amount we spend on aid.
‘We will still spend more than £10 billion this year to and improve global health, fight poverty and tackle climate change. We are working with suppliers and partners on what this means for individual programmes.’
They added that FCDO will spend £1.305bn on global health this year through its commitment to COVAX. COVAX is the global procurement mechanism ensuring ‘fair and equitable access to vaccines’, run by vaccine alliance Gavi and supported by the World Health Organization.