Plans to force all aspiring nurses to work for up to a year as healthcare assistants could put students off doing nursing courses, a health charity has warned.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the move would “give the public confidence” that people entering the profession can give compassionate care.
But Elaine Maxwell, assistant director of the Health Foundation, said the decision would mean that school leavers would see the study of nursing as a “less attractive” option.
Writing on bmj.com, Ms Maxwell cautioned that the UK’s nursing workforce is ageing - with more than a fifth of employees over the age of 50.
She said that the NHS needs to attract bright and enthusiastic youngsters into the profession.
“If school leavers are obliged (rather than allowed to choose) to delay the start of university to spend a year as a healthcare assistant, many may find applying to study nursing a less attractive option,” she wrote.
She added: “Many health professionals already spend time as paid healthcare assistants before and during their studies, and many enjoy their experience. But there is no reason to think that this makes them better practitioners or that it should be made compulsory.”
Earlier this week the health secretary faced criticism over the proposals. Andrea Spyropoulos, president of the Royal College of Nursing, said the plans were a ”really stupid idea”.
But Mr Hunt told the Health Select Committee on Tuesday: ”We do need to make sure that people that go into nursing have the right values.
”What Health Education England say is that there is a big drop-off when people start to do practical experience in the wards as part of their nursing degrees.
”They therefore think it would be much better if people did this experience first and then they could really see whether they are right for nursing before being accepted on a place on a nursing degree that wasn’t right for them.”