Plans for new apprenticeships to fast-track healthcare assistants into nursing must not be used as a way to dilute the graduate-level profession nurses have worked towards for many years, say nursing leaders.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last week announced a new programme targeted at the “brightest and the best” healthcare assistants already working in hospitals.
The Nursing Higher Apprenticeship will have a degree built into it and have to satisfy Nursing and Midwifery Council standards. It will be developed by a group of NHS organisations and private providers working with Health Education England.
Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton said he welcomed initiatives to widen participation in the profession but called for more detail on how the programme would work and be funded.
Above all he said it should not be seen as an easier route into the profession than a more traditional nursing degree. “This is not and at the current time cannot be and in the future must not be a way to circumvent an all-graduate profession,” he said.
“Some people have asked if this is an alternative route to become a nurse without being a graduate and I don’t think it is.”
He said the programme could have a role to play in bringing good people into nursing and addressing shortages of registered nurses. But there were big questions around the size and scope of the scheme and funding.
“We do not know what numbers we are talking about here,” he said.
Universities have questioned the value of the scheme because it would not tackle barriers such as lack of funding and “lack of equivalence of qualifications” with HCAs finding their vocational qualifications and experience were not enough to get on courses.
Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “With the existing flexibilities in work-based higher education, it’s not clear what value this [programme] will add.”
Anne Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing policy at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London, said the policy “raises more questions than it answers”.
“What will the academic value of this qualification be and is it enrolled nurses by another name?” she said.