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Government announces apprentice plan to boost nursing careers


Healthcare assistants already working in hospitals will be able to skip the traditional degree route and train on the job to become a nurse under a new initiative, it has been announced.

New degree-level apprenticeships are being set up which the government said will allow more people to become nurses, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has announced.

The programme is targeted at top healthcare assistants, described by ministers as the “brightest and best”, who may not have the qualifications they need to do a nursing degree at university.

“We want the new norm to be for young people to either choose to go to university or begin an apprenticeship”

Matthew Hancock

The Nursing Higher Apprenticeship will have a degree built into and will have to satisfy the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s standards, including the 50:50 balance between theory and practice learning. It must be delivered by one of the NMC’s approved education institutions.

The scheme is one of the recommendations made last year in the government-commissioned review carried out by journalist Camilla Cavendish into HCA standards and training.

A group of NHS organisations and private providers − dubbed trailblazers by the government − are developing the degree-level apprenticeship scheme in partnership with the body Health Education England.

They include Northampton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Barchester Healthcare, Priory Group and Bupa UK.

Skills minister Matthew Hancock said: “We want the new norm to be for young people to either choose to go to university or begin an apprenticeship. This announcement is another step forward in making this the case.

Matthew Hancock

Matthew Hancock

“I would like to thank the organisations involved in this trailblazer project, and hope their future recommendations for the degree level nursing apprenticeship will provide the NHS and private providers with a group of highly skilled and confident nurses.”

“The nursing profession needs to hear more detail about how this scheme would be funded”

Peter Carter

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The comprehensive degree programme prepares potential nurses for the decisions they will need to make, through a combination of clinical placements and classroom study.

“Just last week, a wide ranging report proved the link between the proportion of degree educated nurses and significantly fewer patient deaths,” he noted. 

Latest data from the seminal RN4CAST study showed having a better educated nursing workforce reduced unnecessary deaths. The study, published in the Lancet, found every 10% increase in the number of bachelor’s degree educated nurses within a hospital was associated with a 7% decline in patient mortality.

Dr Carter added: “We recognise that there is more than one way to prepare a caring person for the demands of this training, and apprenticeships will be a good route for some people.

Peter Carter

“The nursing profession needs to hear more detail about how this scheme would be funded, and to be fully engaged in evaluating how well the schemes work in practice,” he said.

Sue Covill, director of employment services for NHS Employers, said: “Many employers are looking forward to implementing the degree level apprenticeship which not only supports their recruitment plans but also widens access into nursing for their local communities.”

However, universities expressed “serious concerns” that the development of a Higher Apprenticeship in Nursing would not tackle the barriers for support workers who have the potential to become registered nurses.

“It’s not clear what value this [programme] will add”

Ieuan Ellis

Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “The barriers for support workers accessing nursing degrees are usually either lack of equivalence of educational qualifications or lack of funding support. A higher apprenticeship will not in itself tackle these issues.”

Professor Ieuan Ellis

Professor Ieuan Ellis

Professor Ellis added: “With the existing flexibilities in work-based higher education, it’s not clear what value this [programme] will add. We need to focus on sorting out the funding and on making sure that appropriate education and training that enables support workers to progress to higher education is available to them.”


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Readers' comments (80)

  • I feel this way of HCA training on the job is really like the old diploma way training nurses. Is there reallly any point of training nurses at degree level then?

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  • Wonderful idea !

    Will succeed in "Dumbing Down the profession
    and devalue "degrees" ! .

    Just what the public and popular press have been baying for !

    Who needs a University education just to become a nurse ?

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  • full circle-- i was trained in the apprenticeship style-- but that was deemed not academic enough and moved to the universities. have they just realised that by going all degree it ruled ot a nmber of excellent nurses who didnt feel able to meet the degree criteria--

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  • Having worked in the NHS for over 30years I have seen the ful circle of training options. Having worked within education I do believe that by " down grading" the education we are not being fair to the individuals as they do struggle with the academic component of the course. If they are not required to go to university are we just not re-energising a two tiered system of nurses. I am sure other healthcare prfessional will not be attempting to embrace this idea. Doctors who do not need to go to university......That would save money.

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  • michael stone

    IF THEY GET THIS RIGHT then it looks okay to me.

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  • Look, don't knock least there is blue sky thinking for once. However, 1) we need to get the degree training right anyway and 2) just because someone does not get a qualification in the University way does not mean it is not worthy. What about Lawyers and Accountants who can qualify without attending a University? Do you feel they are not worthy? They still get paid the same as someone with a degree if they are in the same job. It all depends on what it involves. If you ask me it will be a lot harder as HCA's will probably have to work full time and then have to study too. Those of us who did the, may I say, EXCELLENT, non degree training had to gain a degree qualification through our own outside work study and from our own pocket. Please stop wingeing about degree training. You are really lucky. Academic term time working, lots of holiday. We worked full time through out the year with 4 weeks set holiday and had to study outside those hours. If this scheme is well set up and appropriate, then bring it on.

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  • I can't see how this addresses the current difficulties we have in student recruitment and retention. We are already finding it hard to recruit students with the right academic qualifications to undertake a degree and where the skills are lacking there is a considerable impact on staff and students themselves as we try and bring them to the required level. Yet we know degrees make a difference to patient outcomes so it is not clear how bringing students without the necessary qualifications onto a degree level apprenticeship scheme addresses this. If the students will still have theory and practice and the only difference is that they will be paid isn't this just a way of improving staff numbers in the short term and not about the ability of the student to meet the degree requirements of the profession in the longer term? I see potential for the apprentice student to be very vulnerable (unclear status/ confusion about role/beholden to the employing authority), for fragmentation in the profession (will the real nurse please stand up) and, as others have commented, the re-emergence of the two tier system. And why is it always assumed that the healthcare assistants provide our best hope of increasing the nursing workforce? It is about time we saw a scheme to bring bright young school leavers in to give much needed support to what is a significantly ageing workforce. That is not to say that widening participation shouldn't continue to be on our agenda. It is absolutely right that where the skills, interest and attributes exist everybody should be able to access the profession but if we are to hold our own against other healthcare professionals as a graduate profession we must ensure that everybody who enters it has the potential to achieve registration at degree level. We obviously need to know much more about this scheme to judge its feasibility but at this stage it is difficult to see how it is step forward for the profession as opposed another short- termism solution to the long anticipated staffing problems bought about by an ageing and exhausted workforce.

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  • I am currently in my 2nd year of a nursing degree. I left school with no qualifications due to family problems. I wanted to do nursing so much I took an Access course to gain the entry requirements to university, so I dont see how not meeting the criteria for a degree would be a problem if people really wanted it they would take the time to do it.

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  • Sounds like my RGN training back in the 80's, not a degree at the end but I got paid while I worked towards qualifying! From what I know of current apprenticeships they get less than minimum wage, isn't this another way of getting cheap labour under the guise of training/education.

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  • This makes sense to me and it isn't really than new: most hospitals used to offer their Auxiliaries (who didn't have enough CSE's) the opportunity to sit the entrance exam and then go onto do their training.

    Why not allow those who have a proven track record in care to go on and become nurses? There's more chance that these people will be retained by the NHS and remain in post as they know what they're letting themselves in for.

    I'd rather have proposals such as these which maintains the primacy of nursing, than have some second-rate, cheapo scheme which produces an NVQ trained, second level 'nurse' with 6 months training and being employed on a band 3/4.

    This should be welcomed.

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