Ministers will miss their vocational training target for the 800,000 care staff who work in the UK's 20,000 nursing and residential homes, according to the head of the biggest organisation representing them.
Local authorities do not pay enough to keep patients in nursing homes for the owners to fund tuition fees or study leave, says Frank Ursell, chief executive of the Registered Nursing Homes Association.
Mr Ursell said: "There is no chance of the Government meeting its April 2005 target on National Vocational Qualifications for care-home staff.
"Even if the money were available, there are not enough bona-fide trainers around to train nursing home care staff to NVQ level 2 in time."
Regulators, he added, demand NVQ rather than equivalent or better training, and so create an "NVQ currency".
"I foresee a market in dubious, off-the-peg 'NVQs' similar to that for 'degrees in the post'."
Mr Ursell said: "The Government has started funding NVQ training for care workers, but it's incremental over three years, with the biggest lump of money coming in the third year, from April 2005 to March 2006, so already the Government is as good as accepting that NVQ is not going to happen by April 2005."
Not all the money budgeted to for training has been being allocated, because there are not simply not enough training providers, he said.
RNHA has 1,200 member nursing homes, caring for about 50,000 elderly people, and employing 75,000 staff.
Mr Ursell owns a small nursing home in Worcestershire for 24 residents with 40 staff. A nursing home differs from a residential home in that staff look in on and care for residents during the night, and there is usually a higher staff-resident ratio.
Owners of both kinds of home say that councils have raised the fees for publicly-funded residents by about 2.5 per cent, but requirements such as the minimum wage have pushed up overheads by almost double that.
About 50 nursing and residential homes close each month. All nursing homes are owned privately or by voluntary bodies, as are over three-quarters of residential homes.
Mr Ursell estimates that there are 15,000 residential homes and 5,000 nursing homes in the UK, where about 400,000 people are looked after by 800,000 carers, full-time and part-time. At least 400,000 staff have yet to reach NVQ level 2, but the figure is probably nearer 500,000.
"The position on NVQ2 is unrealistic, because nobody knows how we're going to get to that April 2005 target date," Mr Ursell said. "The Government has already done a voluntary U-turn on its demand that every resident should have a single room, and now they've got themselves into the same muddle over NVQ."