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Proposals for online nurse degree to be drawn up this autumn

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Plans to introduce a new online nursing degree in England have moved a step forward as health bosses announce a new timeline for development of the programme.

The news comes today in the new Interim NHS People Plan, which aims to address workforce challenges the health service is currently facing.

As part of a chapter dedicated to “tackling the nursing shortage”, the plan outlines ways in which it intends to address the lack of nurses, by offering alternative routes into the profession.

The plan states that NHS England is “exploring the potential” of a new degree programme in which the theoretical component is partly delivered online.

The degree, dubbed the “blended learning nursing degree programme”, aims to widen participation in nurse education by “enabling people to learn on their own terms”.

According to the plan, NHS England is set to call for expressions of interest for the programme from higher education institutions before the summer.

It will then work with them and the Nursing and Midwifery Council to develop proposals in the autumn.

Today’s plan (see PDF attached below) outlines key actions to pursue before the release of the full NHS People Plan, which will reveal funding details after the government’s next spending review.

An action highlighted in this section of the nursing chapter states NHS England will develop proposals that “maximises the opportunities to provide a fully interactive and innovative programme through a digital approach”.

The idea for the degree was first mentioned in the NHS Long Term Plan earlier this year in which it noted the programme could be launched in 2020 depending on the speed of regulatory approvals.

The long-term plan also highlighted that the degree would be offered at “substantially less” than the current £9,250 cost students pay for the traditional degree, to both minimise student debt and incentivise mature students.

For alternative routes into nursing, the key overarching action in today’s workforce plan is to develop a clear model that sets out the different entry routes and highlights benefits to help inform employer and entrant decisions.

The document states that whilst alternative routes “play a key role” in maximising the supply of nurses, it is important that they complement undergraduate and postgraduate expansion.

It also highlights the importance of supporting nurses to move from education to employment, to “maximise the benefit” of newly registered staff.

It flags that several NHS organisations support students through job guarantee approaches and adds that health leaders have the “opportunity to build on this nationally”.

This has, therefore, been earmarked as a key action in the plan, in which it states the health leaders will consider options for how local health systems and employers can use this approach.

Also noted as a key action in this section of the chapter was to expand the pilot programme for nursing associates who wish to continue their studies to registered nurse level.

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