Degree-level nurse apprenticeships have been hailed as a new opportunity for people deterred by the cost of traditional degrees to still become a nurse by one of the universities helping to develop the new qualification.
Those leading the work at the University of Derby said that because apprentices would not have to pay to undertake nurse training and would also be employed at the same time, the programme would help to attract people who may have been put off by the forthcoming switch to loans for student nurses.
“[The introduction of nurse apprenticeships] is an opportunity for people who might have been deterred by funding changes”
However, they noted that draft proposals for the apprenticeships had indicated that the programme would “typically” last four years – longer than the usual three years it takes to complete a nurse degree.
From autumn 2017, pre-registration student nurses on degree programmes in England will no longer receive a bursary and will instead have to take out loans to cover their tuition fees and day-to-day costs – thought to amount to at least £47,000 of debts for three years of training, according to government estimates.
At the same time, some universities will also start offering apprenticeships in partnership with local employers to allow people to train as a nurse while on the job.
Earlier this month, Derby University was named as one of four universities in England that would receive government funding to help develop some of the first degree-level nurse apprenticeships for September 2017.
In an interview with Nursing Times, Denise Baker, head of pre-qualification healthcare at the university, stressed that apprenticeship programmes would have to meet the same Nursing and Midwifery Council standards that degrees currently do.
It will include the 4,600 hours of training split into 50% theory and the other half spent in clinical practice, over a minimum period of three years.
According to draft proposals, only institutions already providing NMC-approved pre-registration nursing programmes will be able to offer apprenticeships.
Ms Baker highlighted this meant universities other than the four already announced – Derby, Greenwich, Sunderland and Gloucestershire – could start offering the qualification in partnership with employers next year.
She also noted that draft proposals for the apprenticeship had indicated programmes would be offered across all four fields of nursing – adult, children’s, mental health and learning disability – but that the duration would “typically” be 48 months.
“The employers are in the driving seat with the apprenticeship agenda so we’ll work in partnership to work out the best route”
The training would be free to students, said Ms Baker, due to the cost being covered by employers through a new system of apprenticeship funding being introduced in 2017.
From spring 2017, apprenticeships in England will be funded through a new levy applied to all UK employers with a paybill of more than £3m a year, which the government expects to double the investment in apprenticeships by 2020 from 2010 levels, to £2.5bn.
“This [the introduction of nurse apprenticeships] is a good opportunity. There may well have been people who were thinking of coming into nursing but who were reluctant when they thought they would be taking out a student loan.
“This is an opportunity for people who might have been deterred by those funding changes,” said Ms Baker.
She said it was too early to tell how far the removal of bursaries would affect the number of nurses being trained through degrees in the future, but she said “anecdotally we have heard people are concerned about taking out a student loan”.
Derby plans to offer 30 apprentice places from September in adult and mental health nursing, in partnership with local employers Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust.
Ms Baker said the university expected its apprenticeship courses to have the same content as its nurse degrees.
But she said it was looking instead at providing apprentice teaching on a part-time basis, because it was expected that the programme would have to allow for the apprentice to work as a healthcare assistant, alongside time spent in tuition and on placements.
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However, she said this would be down to the employers to decide once the final details of the apprenticeship “standard” had been published by the Department for Education, due next year.
“They are clear the employers are in the driving seat with the apprenticeship agenda, so we’ll work in partnership to work out the best route for employers in our locality,” she said.
Ms Baker also stressed that entry requirements for the apprenticeship at Derby would be the same as for its nurse degree – UCAS points equivalent to grades BBC at A Level.
However, she noted entry requirements differed across the country because universities were able to set their own.
Nursing Times contacted the Universities of Greenwich, Sunderland and Gloucestershire about the details of the apprenticeships they expected to offer.
A spokeswoman for Sunderland said it was still in the early stages of developing its apprenticeship with the NHS and Health Education England, and could not provide any further information.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Gloucestershire said it was making “good progress” towards introducing nurse apprenticeships during 2017 and that it would be announcing details “in due course”.
A government consultation on the draft version of the standard for degree-level nurse apprenticeships closed in September.
Earlier this year, the Department of Health unveiled a target of 100,000 new apprenticeships in the NHS in England by 2020.