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Exclusive: HCAs to be offered faster nursing degree courses


A renewed focus on fast-track nurse degree training for healthcare assistants is to be introduced by Health Education England, following a major review of education and training due out this week.

The move is expected to have the double effect of improving career options for HCAs – long seen as an issue for the health service – and as a means of speeding up the supply of home-grown nurses to help deal with the current shortage in registrants.

“We will create a standardised education and training framework, and we will also promote work-based learning opportunities”

HEE spokeswoman

The national workforce planning body has told Nursing Times that it will draw up a standardised education and training framework for universities and employers in England, which allows students to use prior relevant experience to account for some elements of their degree.

This type of fast track training – referred to as accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) – means students can complete their undergraduate nursing degree in less time than the standard three years.

HEE said its new framework will focus on students being able to use previous experience that demonstrates they have the required knowledge and skills to account for up to half of their degree – meaning they will be able to graduate within one and a half years.


survey services

Pre-registration nurse degree applicants with relevant experience are already able to gain a degree within this timeframe. Guidance from the Nursing and Midwifery Council states that approved education institutions “must have processes in place to allow APEL for up to a maximum of 50% of the programme, provided all requirements are met in full”.

However, it is down to each university to decide how much of a student’s course can be accredited from previous experience and Nursing Times understands that no data is collected on how many universities or students are taking advantage of the facility – the suggestion being that its use is not currently widespread.

The new framework will seek to standardise the process and, as a result, encourage universities and employers to consider whether more people with prior experience could be eligible for fast-track training.

A spokeswoman for HEE said: “We will create a standardised education and training framework that will enable us to APEL individuals up to 50% of a standard pre-registration programme, and we will also promote work-based learning opportunities.”

Nursing Times understands HEE will introduce the new framework in response to the Shape of Caring Review,which is due to publish its findings later this week. 

The review was commissioned to look at the future of both pre-registration and post-registration nurse education and training in England, after concerns were raised about standards in the wake of the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.

The review, which was set up in May by HEE, is being chaired by Lord Willis of Knaresborough who has previously stated that the report will focus on training for healthcare assistants and continuing professional development for nurses.

He also revealed last year that his final report would include a recommendation about required “prior experience” for student nurses before they begin nursing degrees.

rcn_willisLord Willis speaks at the 2014 RCN Congress

In an exclusive interview with Nursing Times, he said: “I think a year [of prior experience] is too much, because I don’t think it is financially sustainable to deliver. But what the public demand – and which, as a minimum, patients should demand – is that nobody works with a patient without appropriate training and experience.”

It follows the introduction of a controversial government pilot scheme in which future student nurses spend from three months to a year working as healthcare assistants before beginning their degree.

The ongoing pilot, which is being run by HEE, formed part of the government’s initial response to the Francis report in 2013, with ministers seeing it as part of the solution to what was perceived as a lack of compassion shown to patients by some nursing staff. 

Other recommendations from the Willis review are expected to focus on how much generalist and specialist training student nurses should have.

As reported by Nursing Times in December, members of the group leading the review told delegates at the chief nursing officer’s summit that they were looking into a new model of education to address concerns that current training leaves students in “silos”.

Currently, nurses pick one of four specialisms to study at university – adult, paediatrics, mental health, or learning disability nursing.

The review is expected to make recommendations that could see students spend more years learning general nursing skills before specialising at a later point.


Readers' comments (84)

  • HCSW

    Many years of experience as HCSW trough the NHSP, on many different wards
    I have done GCSEs - 1 year,
    I have done Access - 1 year,
    I've been working like a donkey for a year, to save enough money for the duration of a course..

    Passed exams and been offered a place on a 3 year course.

    Now government comes with the idea of a 'fast track': 1.5 years?

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  • michael stone

    In a comment to a related piece, someone has suggested that re-introducing an equivalent to SENs would be used by organisations to down-band RGN posts.

    It seems to me, that if the 'top end' of the HCA role was 'developed' by some nationally-recognised 'enhanced learning/skills' 'modules' (mainly taught 'on the job'), and the transition from HCA to RGN could be shorter for HCAs who are 'at the top-end of HCA capabilities' (APEL - see article above), the danger (highlighted by that other poster) of having two-tier 'qualified nurses' could be avoided, and that HCA carer progression could be improved, and any 'awkward [capability] gap between' HCA and RGN could be closed ?

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  • This will be brilliant, if they would bring out a different way of becoming a nurse.

    I am currently working as a HCA so this would give me the perfect opportunity.

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  • Why oh why oh why does there always have to be a degree involved !!!! Why cant we look at capabilities of people,how about,having a person who has enough social skills,a good standard of education,you know the stuff can add,subtract and use a calculator,can manage to write something with out too many spelling mistakes,can speak clearly and not sound like the're chewing a brick,is kind,gets on well with others,keeps the place clean and tidy,can speak up for themselves and others,takes responsibility,doesn't whine on and on all the time and looks nice ( most of the time)

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  • But how about those HCA's who would like to do more and move forward in their career without being a nurse?

    For example I am an Associate Practice Eudcator Band 3 , I have completed a foundation degree topping up to the full degree , training to become a qualified teacher . But why could i not be Band 5/6/7, you do not need to be a nurse to teach bands 1 -4 just occupationally competent .

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  • Why have we made being a nurse into some sort of academic job similar to a quantum physics scientist ! It cant possibly involve that much !!!,its not like they have to actually perform the operation as well as making sure the patients is cared for afterwards,its not like they are having to make a diagnosis of some serious condition,Whats happened ??? Why have we got so many Nurse Managers that cant even manage their own weight,let alone systems and staff???

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  • I second that Julie Laidlaw (tips hat).

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  • We seem to have people who really want to look after other humans, are reasonably intelligent,work well and would be an ideal candidate to take on this rewarding,confusing,uplifting,soul eroding,life enhancing role so why don't we let them do it ??

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  • I agree with Julie Laidlaw!

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  • This just pushes hcas into nursing and therefore into a more administrative role .many hcas choose their job because of the patient interaction they have and they are extremely good at it.the role of hcas is invaluable and should not be seen as a stopgap to being a degree nurse. Have we not seen enough nurses ie Project 20000 who get their degree then leave ?

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