Plans to create an apprenticeship route into district nursing in England have moved a significant step forward.
The apprenticeship standard has been given approval by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, subject to one amendment.
“District nurses are the unsung heroes of the NHS, supporting people to be cared for safely at home”
The standard will now have to go through an end point assessment before it can be ready for delivery. The final green light is expected later this year and it could be ready for delivery by September 2020.
The apprenticeship is set to be a part-time two-year programme that will be approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and funded by businesses through the government’s levy scheme.
The traditional route is one-year full-time and is funded by the government arms-length body Health Education England.
The crossing of the hurdle comes as concern grows about a 46% decline district nurses since 2010.
Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, welcomed the news, however, she told Nursing Times that she had an “anxiety” that the opportunity would be used to axe the one-year programme.
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HEE launched a review last year into community nurse training due to problems filling places.
Dr Oldman said this had raised question marks over whether funding for the district nursing specialist practitioner qualification would continue.
She warned that if HEE funding was turned off from September 2019 and the apprenticeship started in 2020, that would mean there would be no district nurses qualifying in England in 2021.
“We have been saying that to protect the public and to provide a variety of options in how district nurses are training, [the apprenticeship] needs to be an alternative route not just a replacement substitute,” she told Nursing Times.
“It’s got to be about giving employers options of supporting an apprenticeship route as well as HEE funding for the full-time programme,” she added.
Dr Oldman noted how “appropriately trained” district nurses would be instrumental in delivering on the ambition in the NHS Long Term Plan to provide more care to people in their homes.
She said she believed the lauch of the apprenticeship could help curb the decline in district nurses and would raise the profile of the profession.
“District nurses are the unsung heroes of the NHS, supporting people to be cared for safely at home and preventing thousands of hospital admissions every day,” she added.
“After two years of dedicated work, we are pleased to have district nursing recognised as unique occupation”
A spokeswoman for HEE said the NHS Long Term Plan workforce implementation plan, due to be released later this year, would “inform the future NHS position on specialist nursing programmes”.
She added: “HEE is fully committed to supporting district nursing programmes through a number of different entry routes.”
Work on creating the apprenticeship standard has been led by Queen’s Nurse Steph Lawrence, interim executive director of nursing at Leeds Community Healthcare and Leeds GP Confederation, who is chair of the trailblazer group.
Ms Lawrence said: “After two years of dedicated work, we are pleased to have district nursing recognised as unique occupation and enable continuation of training which is crucial if we are to deliver more care in the community to meet the NHS long-term plan.”
A spokesman for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education confirmed that the district nurse standard was “approved subject to minor conditions”.
However, he stressed that the end point assessment still needed to be agreed before the apprenticeship could be ready for use.
The development of the district nurse apprenticeship follows the launch of apprenticeship routes to become a registered nurse and nursing associate.