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Government to launch national programme of nurse apprenticeships

The government is set to launch a national apprenticeship scheme for prospective nursing students later this year, Nursing Times understands.

The scheme will most likely see cadet schemes and HCA training expanded to prepare aspiring nursing students for the rigours of a nursing degree.

Nursing Times has learnt that the government will launch the new scheme in a bid to ensure recruitment from the widest possible pool of applicants. 

Health ministers are understood to be worried that without a specific programme to help those from non-traditional academic backgrounds the number of people applying for a degree in nursing could fall dramatically.

One of the main criticisms of an all-graduate entry profession is that it could prove a disincentive for those from less academic backgrounds and lead to a less diverse recruitment pool.

A recent research review by the National Nursing Research Unit at King’s College London concluded that around one-third of current entrants to the profession each year do not have sufficient qualifications to undertake a degree.

Apprenticeships would offer a period of training to help prepare those from less academic background for the challenges of completing a degree.

Proposals currently being considered by government officials include extending existing cadet nursing programmes - currently run in some NHS trusts and usually comprising 26 weeks in a hospital setting and 20 weeks at a higher education institute – and rebranding them as apprenticeship scheme. Those who succesfully complete the new schemes could go on to access degree-level nurse training. 

Trusts that already run such schemes include Scarborough and North East Yorkshire Healthcare NHS Trust, Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust and the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust in London.

The Whittington scheme, which is run in partnership with the North Central London Workforce Development Confederation, is longer than most schemes and consists of a two-year training programme after which candidates can begin nurse training.

Additionally, Nursing Times understands that HCAs who currently study for national vocational qualifications could also – after two years in NHS service – be deemed to have completed an apprenticeship and go on to degree level nurse training.

The union Unison supports the idea of apprenticeship schemes, particularly as a means of supporting HCAs to become registered nurses or midwives.   

In a recent Nursing Times special supplement, Unison national officer Dave Godson said: ‘Unison is keen that the apprenticeships should work within the Agenda for Change system and that people should have a guaranteed job at the end of the process.

‘Apprenticeships should be an opportunity to build on the already strong contribution that HCAs make every day to the NHS. They should also enhance HCAs’ opportunities to progress to professional qualifications or to develop their skills in their current role,’ he added.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘We continue to actively explore with a range of organisations the potential entry routes into nursing. We want people from all backgrounds to have the opportunity to have access to a nursing career.

‘Cadetships are already used successfully to train staff in clinical support roles and apprenticeships could be used in a similar way. Developing existing and creating new pathways into pre-registration nurse education will provide real opportunities for HCAs and others with the talent and ambition to progress into nursing careers,’ he added.

The idea of nursing apprenticeships is in line with wider government policy on such schemes in other sectors. In January the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said it would fund an additional 35,000 apprentices for other professions in the present financial year – across both the public and private sector. 

Last year 224,000 people started an apprenticeship, it said.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Well, wonders will never cease!
    Of course, those of us who have nursed for years and were lucky enough to have done the Hospital Based Diploma training, have known that the only way to train nurses properly is do it on the wards. I think what they are now recommending is pointing in the right direction, but really why not just bite the bullet and return to full-time training in hospitals? The hospitals would have well-staffed wards with rigoruous supervision and training programmes that turn out professional nurses from a diverse cultural background. The students would be mentored by their senior nurse students and trained staff and would most certainly understand what it is to nurse people in a complete and holistic way. Degrees can be incorporated into the training whilst the students are earning an income (not getting into debt before they've even started a job), learning their job and getting on with life - all at the age of 18. And, it's fun learning this way!

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  • As I too have been nursing for many years, I agree with the above comments and feel that over the years the sense of pride and allegiance to work colleagues has all but dissappeared, with training being brought back into hospitals I hope that this will return and with it an improved understanding of what nursing is all about. Improved patient care, seeing the patient as a person with a past, a future and many life experiences.

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  • I couldn't agree more! I feel for the newly qualified nurses coming out of universities completely unprepared for work on the wards. They went in to Nursing for the same reasons that we older nurses did, but many have been let down by academics in ivory towers. So sad.

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  • Coming to the end of my first year at university i have to say the teaching and content of the Diphe course leaves a lot to be desired. I learn more whilst on placement than at university and would welcome more placements within the course or hospital based training. The expertise and knowledge of my mentors, qualified staff on placement and practice placement managers is more up to date, relevant and interesting than that of my course content.

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  • Again, I am a nurse with many years experience under my belt and currently practising in a specialist role. I agree whole-heartedly with the comments above. It dismays me so much to keep reading of the move towards nursing becoming a wholly degree profession. It should most definitely not be so,making it such will preclude so many of the people who could potentially make the excellent nurses.The degree should remain an option for those who wish to take their academic learning to a higher level, but no matter how hard the powers that be try to dress it up, nursing has and always should be a "caring profession" and is a hands on job. How many of us were inspired by those senior nurses who gave high standards of care and had great experience and depth of knowledge and learnt how not to do things from those who failed to set such high standards?

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  • I started the diploma of Higher Education in Nursing Studies in March 2004, during this time, I had what I suppose you could call a mental and emotional breakdown. I was due to complete my course in March 2007, I finished hours and passed all the aspects of nursing on the wards and in practical aspects of nursing, after having time out due to being unwell, I still had my last assignment due in, which I had failed by a big 3%, but had to get a job away from nursing as was unable to obtain any benefits as was still classed as a student, anyway, sidetracking here a little bit, but the assignment was resubmitted and suprisingly, failed again by 3%!! Guess who now doesn't get to be a nurse?!?!?! The thing that bites the most is that because I faile a managment assignment, again, by 3%, I am therefore deemed "unsafe" to practice as a nurse, yet I was rated highly from my mentors on the ward due to my efficient and effective work, offered jobs "when you qualify" and even obtained a job in a nursing home to suppliment my bursary, through my working there on a placement. Forget the academic and get nurses onto the wards to learn the ways that people do learn, by doing it!! So, colleagues who I saw show absolutley no sympathy, no "bedside manner" and no basic care for people are now happily being able to 'treat' people, and I won't ever be able to. No, this isn't a bitter "failure" speaking and ranting, this is a "safe" nurse not being able to practice. Fundamental nursing skills cannot be taught in a classroom, people can talk the talk and fly high academically, but be horrific with real life patients. Plus, the wage for a cadet nurse, which many years ago I toyed with (but thankfully didn't follow it through), is extremely dismal, true, you get experience of ward work, but as I was, an 18year old living alone could NO WAY live on it, besides, there is still no 100% confirmation of gaining a place on the course of nurse training. Not as good as it seems!!

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  • I did my Cadet Nursing course at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital in 2000. As I did not have the qualifications to have entered the Nurse training the convensional way. This course prepared me more for being a nurse and working on the wards and with patients, relatives and staff far more than the Nurse Training could of. Its a shame that the powers to be think that to be a nurse you have to have a degree, what about the caring side to the profession??

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  • I am a nurse (one of the bad ones who were trained on the job) and sadly have been a patient recently. Where are the nurses who care? All I wanted was to be comfortable in bed, be able to reach my meal so that I could eat it before it was whisked away and to have a nurse talk to me as if I was a human being and not an object to be sorted out. Sadly the only kindness I received was from nurses trained abroad who apologised for the attitude and lack of actions of their colleagues. Nursing is a hands on caring profession and you cannot learn that from books.

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  • As a student Nurse getting ready to qualify, I agree with many of the comments that we learn MUCH more on the wards than at uni.

    However, this does not mean that academia does not have an important role to play in Nurse training, and I agree with an all degree profession.

    The problem at the moment is the CONTENT of these courses. In their rush to be viewed as legitimate academics, the nursing programmes have filled themselves up with 'fluff' subjects such as methodology, ethics, politics, sociology, etc that do have a small place within nursing, have effectively taken over the REAL subjects that should be at least 90% of the course, Nursing skills, A&P, Pathophysiology, Medications, etc.

    We are a medical profession after all, not social workers or middle managers or 'leaders', as much as those in top would like us to be.

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  • I'm an HCA in my local hospital and i absolutly love it!! Having applied at uni last year and failed to gain a place i am now hoping to gain the secondment opportunity that my trust offers, but, i feel doing your nurses training should be like the good old day like my mum, gran's and aunts all trained in. In a nursing SCHOOL. I don't mind the academic side as i quite like researching and writing essays but in the profession we are in, i feel the only place to actually learn and put what we'v learned into practice would be on the job. As you say you learn so much more on placement's than when at uni!! Think about how much we could actually learn if we where on a 'placement' full-time, learning from the nurse's who we look up to for advice and guidance.

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  • Hello i am a student nurse and i am dyslexic and i find the assignment side of the nursing course so hard to do. but i have compleated all my hours and my tasks when out on placement and my mentors have all been so happy with what i do and my readyness to learn but the university have now stopped my course because i failed my assignments and my exams but not through lack of knowledge it is just the way it is presented. so i will now not be able to be a learning disability nurse now and that is all i have ever wanted to be because there is no other way in to that setting. i do think we should go back to learning in hospitals as you learn through experience. well good luck to all the students out there hope you all make it.

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