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Apprenticeships may offer a new route into nursing, but they cannot replace full-time university education


An interview with Anne Milton, minister for apprenticeships and skills, has caused something of a storm in the profession, and in particular among educationalists.

Ms Milton, a former district nurse and a junior health minister in the Coalition government between 2010 and 2012, was speaking about nurse degree apprenticeships offering an alternative route into the profession for people who would make “brilliant” nurses but feel the profession is unattainable.

The minister has a point. Some people may feel that full-time university life isn’t for them, and new routes into the profession are to be welcomed, particularly for those who cannot afford to become full-time students.

However, while alternative routes into the profession may go some way to addressing the crisis in the nursing workforce, it is vital that these routes offer the same high-quality education provided on full-time courses.

It is also vital that they are not seen as a replacement for university-based nursing programmes – university life offers so much more than just the academic education, and it is far easier to quality assure the education provided in these institutions.

It is disappointing, therefore, that Ms Milton said she “regretted” the move to university-based nurse education. This has enabled the profession to flourish and extend its scope of practice in ways that simply would not be possible in a hospital-based system.

Universities have also facilitated the creation of nursing research that is now flourishing across the academic sector and the NHS. Nurses are leading important research studies and ensuring the profession’s practice is based on solid evidence that is relevant to nursing, rather than extrapolating from medically focused studies.

Nursing today is a different profession to the one Ms Milton joined as a student nurse in 1974.

There is still a vocal minority who think nursing would be better if nurses focused on hospital corners and following doctors’ orders. These people simply don’t understand what nursing in the modern healthcare system entails. While sections of the general public can be excused for such outdated views, it is regrettable that a government minister with Ms Milton’s background appears to share them.

I am aware that the content of the article has caused upset among the nursing community. This was never my intention. The article was meant to shine a spotlight on what a government minister in charge of apprenticeships thought about it in relation to nursing policy so that the profession would be aware of it and be in a position to respond. The minister’s views certainly do not in any way represent those of myself or Nursing Times. These are very important issues that I do not take lightly, as I hope the words above and the response news story reflecting the views of nurses hopefully demonstrate. I apologise for any offence caused and please be reassured that Nursing Times is always on your side.



Readers' comments (2)

  • Thanks Steve. Appreciate your swift response and action given the concern this raised in the profession. Whilst everyone is entitled to a view there is alot of evidence to support the current education of nursing and midwifery students to degree level and one which I fully support as a senior nurse leader

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  • I strongly support the shift of nursing education to degree level. However, NMC and universities in the UK should review their curriculum to include courses like Medical surgical nursing, pharmacology, in depth anatomy and physiology and nursing science (which include the teaching of nursing procedures). These courses alongside the application of evidence based nursing research studies will go a long way to improve the skills and competence of nurses in the UK. We can as well introduce a multi choice question system similar to NCLEX.

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