The nursing recruitment crisis could be resolved if healthcare providers were given funding to take on apprentices, a senior nurse has said.
Sue Smith, executive chief nurse and deputy chief executive at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, which was one of the first in the UK to introduce a registered nurse apprenticeship, said the scheme had been beneficial but had left the trust with a “financial gap”.
“At the moment our financial gap on our apprentices is significant”
The trust started the programme in February in partnership with University of Cumbria. The first intake attracted 93 applicants and 27 were accepted on the four-year course.
Speaking at the first Nursing Times Workforce Summit on 4 October, Ms Smith said the apprentices had made a positive difference to the trust in “so many ways”.
The trust only accepts applications from people who have already worked there for six months, usually as a healthcare support worker. Ms Smith said: “That means they have learnt the fundamental accepts of care and they know if it’s for them – we hope our attrition rate because of that will be negligible.”
The apprentices spend one day a week at university and the other four working at the trust, two of which are supernumerary.
To widen their breadth of experience, the students are put on 70-week placements in different areas.
“We do know we have nursing shortages and we know we need to get these routes going across the system”
Training for the apprentices is paid for through the apprenticeship levy, however this cannot cover associated costs such as wages and backfill.
Ms Smith told delegates: “At the moment our financial gap on our apprentices is significant.”
She said: “If we got a little bit of central support to off-set the financial pressure we are under then I don’t think we will have a problem in the future.”
The trust is aspiring to have two intakes a year of 100 registered nurse apprentices.
Ms Smith said two groups of 100 new registered nurses for Morecambe would address the area’s workforce problem.
“My board is a really supportive board and we know this would be the future for us, but they took a decision that they would put their money where their mouth is and not every board will do that and not every board is as forward thinking,” added Ms Smith.
Responding, Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, chief nurse at Health Education England, said she recognised Ms Smith’s concerns and was working on a solution.
She said: “We do know we have nursing shortages and we know we need to get these routes going across the system so I’m working hard to say: ‘let’s get some money involved in this’.”
Meanwhile, Helen Fawcett, who is part of the first cohort of registered nurse apprentices at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, also attended the summit to speak about her experiences.
“It’s the way that suits our learning needs because it’s a hands-on role”
Ms Fawcett joined the trust in 2014 as a clinical support worker in the emergency department.
She said she fell in love with the job and knew she wanted to become a nurse but could not afford the university fees without the bursary.
When the apprenticeship scheme opened in January, Ms Fawcett said she was the first to put her application on Ms Smith’s desk.
Ms Fawcett said the apprenticeship had been an “amazing opportunity”.
“For many of us on this cohort, it’s the way that suits our learning needs because it’s a hands-on role,” she added.
“We are learning by doing, looking after these patients and putting everything we do one day a week at university into practice on the wards,” she said.
Ms Fawcett said she only ever saw the beginning of the patient experience when working in A&E but through the apprenticeship she had been able to understand the whole pathway.
She still works in the emergency department as a bank healthcare support worker and said she now did the role differently with a “nurse’s head on”.