A group of 21 trainee nursing associates has begun apprenticeships at a private mental healthcare provider, which is claiming to be one of the first independent organisations to offer this form of training for the new role.
Cygnet Health Care, which runs 108 services in the UK, launched its two-year nursing associate foundation degree apprenticeships last month with the University of Wolverhampton.
“This [nursing associate apprenticeship] is ground-breaking and something that employers need”
It intends for many of the trainees, who are currently healthcare support workers at the organisation, to go on to become registered nurses with a further two-year apprenticeship.
Those who helped to develop the programme at Cygnet described the apprenticeship training as “ground-breaking” and said they hoped the move would help to address shortages of registered nurses.
The first group of apprentices, who are based across England, will spend one day a week training in Stoke-on-Trent, alongside at least 30 hours working as support workers with their employer.
They will also spend periods of time on placements, the majority of which will be at different services across Cygnet hospitals.
The programme will be free to the apprentices because Cygnet is funding the programme through the new apprenticeship levy, introduced by the government in April 2017.
“This is the start of a growing portfolio in health for apprenticeships”
Mandy Blanchard, head of learning and development at Cygnet, said the organisation planned to bring in more cohorts of trainees in larger numbers in the future.
“The number of registered nurse vacancies we have at the moment won’t reflect where we are when these staff qualify, but we’re hoping in two years’ time they will significantly address that shortfall,” she said. “Particularly if we have another few cohorts.
“We looked at this 18 months ago and prior to the launch of the nursing associate apprenticeship we were looking at maybe the assistant practitioner training, but when this came up were so excited,” she told Nursing Times.
mandy blanchard head of learning and development cygnet health care
“This is ground-breaking and something that employers need, and our staff are overwhelmed by the commitment us as an organisation are dedicating to this programme in recognition of the support they have already given us,” added Ms Blanchard.
In 2017 the University of Wolverhampton took part in the first wave of 11 pilot sites that began testing the new nursing associate role, which is being introduced across England.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council agreed in 2017 to become the regulator of nursing associates. It launched a consultation on its draft version of proficiency standards for the new role earlier this month and expects to finalise them by the autumn.
The first group of 1,000 trainee nursing associates are expected to qualify in January 2019, by which point the NMC is due to have opened its register to those in the new role.
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Michele Roberts, head of the University of Wolverhampton’s apprenticeship hub, said: “We have worked extensively with employers in building a programme that meets their requirements, NMC requirements as well as ensuring the appropriate support mechanisms are in place for our apprentices along the way.
“This is the start of a growing portfolio in health for apprenticeships and it’s our intention to build on the good employer engagement we have to establish further pathways of studying for the care industry,” she added.