Up to 1,000 apprentice nurses could join the NHS each year once the new route into the profession is fully up and running, the government has announced.
During a speech to NHS employers this morning, Jeremy Hunt laid out plans to introduce the first degree-level nurse apprenticeships from September among a range of nursing workforce policy announcements.
As previously reported by Nursing Times, at least four universities are expected to begin nurse apprenticeships in partnership with employers in 2017.
Apprentice nurses will stay in work while learning and will not have to pay to train.
The Department of Health said today that people will be able to join apprenticeship programmes at different stages, depending on their qualifications and experience.
In a statement issued ahead of his speech at the NHS Providers annual conference in Birmingham, Mr Hunt said that existing routes to gain a nurse degree “shut out” some of “the most caring, compassionate staff in our country”.
“By creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help HCAs and others reach their potential”
“I want those who already work with patients to be able to move into the jobs they really want and I know for many, this means becoming a nurse,” he said.
“Not everyone wants to take time off to study full time at university so by creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse,” he added.
Professor Lisa Bayliss Pratt, director of nursing at Health Education England, is co-chair of the “trailblazer” group of employers and representatives from the healthcare sector developing the nurse apprenticeship standard.
The standard is due to be published today by the Skills Funding Agency and will describe what apprentices will be doing and the skills required of them.
“The nurse apprenticeship route will provide employers with an opportunity to grow their own workforce”
Commenting on the plans announced today, Professor Bayliss-Pratt said: “The development of the nursing degree apprenticeship standard is a key element of developing flexible routes into nursing for our health and care workforce.
“We want to open up more opportunities for people to enter the nursing profession and the nurse apprenticeship route will provide employers with an opportunity to grow their own workforce,” she said.
“We anticipate that the first nursing degree apprentice programme will be available in 2017,” she added.
When asked by Nursing Times how many apprentice places would be available across England in the academic year starting from September 2017, the DH said the trailblazer group would now work on forming a delivery plan, which would include these details.
The DH said the plan would also provide information about when the apprenticeship programme is expected to be fully up and running and offering up to 1,000 annual training places in the NHS.
It confirmed nurse apprentices would also be able to train in community and social care settings.
Responding to the announcement, Jackie Smith, chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said: “We have worked closely with the government and other partners on the development of the nursing degree apprenticeship.
“Those following the new apprenticeship pathway will be trained against the NMC’s pre- registration standards ensuring all nurses joining the NMC’s register are equipped with the right skills, knowledge and experience to deliver safe and effective care,” she said.
View from Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN
“With almost 24,000 nursing vacancies across the UK, it is very positive that the Government recognises the need to increase the number of nurses. We know this will improve the quality of patient experience and outcomes as well as relieving pressure on our over-worked staff.
“Giving opportunities for staff currently working in the NHS in England is very welcome. Hardworking staff deserve the chance to develop their careers.
“Flexible entry into nursing has always been important to get the right nurse and enable a wide access to the profession. For many years, universities have worked to achieve just this. We have yet to see the result of the decision to remove the funding for undergraduate nurse education and nursing bursaries, expecting student nurses to pay for their education with loans. The explanation for this move was to enable more people to train as nurses by releasing the cap created by limited funding.
“Whilst this new apprenticeship model will provide a different opportunity, we need to be careful that their clinical experience is in a learning environment and they have access to graduate level education to gain the knowledge and skills required for 21st century health care, which are proved to have a direct effect on patient mortality. Nursing has progressed over many years, we must be careful to learn from the lessons of the past when student nurses were often seen as nursing on the cheap.
“We must be careful we do not create a two-tier system which reduces equality of opportunity. We need to attract people of all ages and from diverse backgrounds into the profession.
“The RCN and the nursing community has fought long and hard to ensure a highly skilled and expert workforce. This can only be achieved if the right level of university education, supervised clinical experience in a learning environment with substantial mentoring and supervision are available.”