Millions of pounds could be invested in the training and development of lower paid NHS staff to help them progress into nursing and other professional roles.
Health Education England is considering boosting the proportion of the £5bn education and training budget that it currently spends on the lowest-paid NHS staff by 1% a year for five years.
The move forms part of Health Education England’s national programme to develop those in the lower bands of the Agenda for Change pay framework. The National Bands 1-4 Project was launched in October last year with the aim of improving opportunities for NHS career progression, especially for young people.
“I can’t see how there would not be consequences for other workforce groups”
The education and training body is currently developing proposals for the strategy. These could include boosting the number of apprenticeships available and the creation of “skills escalators” for all band 1 to 4 staff. This would allow some to access graduate programmes, leading to more joining professions such as nursing and midwifery.
Papers linked to the project said: “As part of our development of this strategy we would set an aim to increase the proportion of funding available for education and training for staff in posts banded 1 to 4.
“Realistically, this could be set at 1% growth each year for five years,” stated the document seen by Nursing Times’ sister title Health Service Journal.
Health Education England has not clarified how much this would mean in cash terms, describing it as a “broad indication”.
Stephen Welfare, managing director of Health Education East of England and national lead for the National Bands 1-4 Project, said no final decisions had yet been made on the strategy or funding.
Encouraging more staff from bands 1 to 4 into nursing is being seen as one way to help tackle a looming retirement bulge in nursing. A labour market review by the Royal College of Nursing in 2010 predicted 200,000 nurses could retire by 2020.
RCN head of policy Howard Catton said: “We would absolutely recognise there is a need for investment in bands 1 to 4.
“However, the 1% is news to me and it does raise some really important questions over the detail. I can’t see how there would not be consequences for other [workforce] groups.”
The 470,000 staff in bands 1 to 4 make up around 40% of the NHS’s 1.4 million workforce in England, and includes around 271,000 healthcare assistants. Staff in these bands are responsible for an estimated 60% of direct patient contact.
In March, the government announced plans for a Nursing Higher Apprenticeship. The programme is targeted at the “brightest and best” HCAs, who may not have the qualifications they need to do a nursing degree at university.
Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council are about to embark on a national review of education and training standards for nurses and HCAs.
News of the increased investment comes ahead of a major review of nurse education and training in by Health Education England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (page 5).