The University of Sunderland is launching a ground-breaking nursing degree apprenticeship scheme, which will see candidates study for up to five years while learning on the job.
The programme, which was developed in partnership with NHS trusts in the North East, is designed to tackle nursing staff shortages in the region without stripping wards of much-needed support staff.
“If we want to send 10 HCAs to train to become registrants, trusts have to backfill”
Those behind the extended work-based training programme also claim it will provide a more manageable balance of work and study for healthcare assistants and others keen to become a registered nurse.
About 80 apprentice nurses from five different NHS trusts are expected to embark on the new-style training in January next year.
Nursing apprenticeships are being seen nationally as one way to tackle national nurse staffing shortages, by training up talented healthcare support workers.
Much of the emphasis to date has been on creating fast-track schemes to enable apprentices to qualify as nurses as quickly as possible.
“This is a new, employer-led model that will upskill those with years of experience”
But Sheila McQueen, professor of nursing and continuous education at Sunderland University, said trusts in the North East were keen to take a different approach, partly to avoid the hefty costs of backfilling staff.
“When I first started talking to the North East trusts about nursing degree apprenticeship programmes they were saying ‘we’re looking for an innovative approach – a cost-effective programme and a way to minimise what could be a £6million bill to backfill,” she said.
Instead of devising a shorter scheme, she and colleagues came up with the idea of extending training to cut the cost of staff cover as well as giving candidates more time to complete their studies.
“Initially, I could only think the same as everyone else – condense the time, it seemed the only solution, but this was not what the trusts wanted,” said Professor McQueen.
She said: “If we want to send 10 healthcare assistants to train to become registrants, trusts have to backfill, otherwise who will do the patient care work while they are studying? You can’t lose 10 people from your workforce, even reducing a programme to two years – that’s huge.”
“The model and partnership with trusts has received high praise from the NMC”
Ensuring would-be nurses could manage the demands of juggling learning and working – especially for those who might have struggled in education in the past – was also an important consideration, she noted.
She added: “The other issue is expecting the students to manage a two-year programme academically, on top of working.
“Some of the healthcare assistants will make wonderful registered nurses, but have not had the opportunities to prepare themselves academically for higher education and instead need a framework of support to help them quickly progress to the required standard,” she said.
Professor McQueen has worked with curriculum consultant Mark Robinson to develop a new work-based learning model inspired by the continuing professional development (CPD) required of all nurses.
“If I’m a registrant and I want to progress to become an advanced practitioner I do my CPD in employment, I work, I reflect on practice, using my normal work as part of my study,” she said.
“I wouldn’t come out to study to improve my skills and learning, I do that study in the workplace,” she said. “So if a healthcare assistant wants to be a registrant why are they different?”
“Not many professions can offer quite that breadth of development opportunity”
Participants in the University of Sunderland’s nursing degree apprenticeship programme will already be employed in a hospital and must have at least two years’ experience working with patients.
Under the CPD-based model, they will do two days per week working on their normal ward and then spend three days in supervised advanced practice – still working with patients.
Each will be allocated an Apprenticeship Educational Supervisor in Practice who will meet them once a week and oversee their progress. The fact candidates still spend roughly half their time working in their original role will reduce the cost of backfill cover.
Meanwhile, the programme allows support workers at different levels to progress at a pace suited to them with their existing skills and previous experience taken into account.
For example, an HCA without an NVQ qualification would be expected to study for up to five years, while an HCA who already has an NVQ Level 3 could become a registrant within four years.
In addition, an assistant practitioner with a foundation degree could complete the programme in three years, while a nursing associate would take two years to become a registered nurse.
Local trusts have played an integral role in shaping and supporting the training. The first cohort of apprentices will be seconded from employment in five trusts to study adult, learning disability or mental health nursing.
Source: University of Sunderland
The trusts in question are Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals Foundation Trust, Northumberland Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust, and Tees, Esk and Wear Valley Foundation Trust.
City Hospitals Sunderland Foundation Trust and South Tyneside Foundation Trust, which are set to merge, are also involved.
Professor Michael Young, deputy vice-chancellor at the university, described the programme as breaking new ground.
“This is a new, employer-led model that will upskill those with years of experience of caring for patients to become registrants, in a timescale that is manageable for the apprentices and does not require hospitals to backfill their workforce,” he said.
“It’s the first time we have seen the integration of professional practice and work-based learning and I’m very pleased that the model has been so well received by our health partners,” he added.
Professor McQueen said the model had the potential to be rolled out nationally across the NHS and could also be used to develop the nursing workforce outside the health service.
She said: “The model and partnership with trusts has received high praise from the Nursing and Midwifery Council and has the potential to become a national model for the NHS as well as being adopted to develop the nursing workforce for private care providers.
“Nurses can come in at entry level, progress to full registrant status by meeting the nursing and midwifery standards, and obtain a degree,” she said. “Not many professions can offer quite that breadth of development opportunity.”