Healthcare assistants already working in hospitals will be able to skip the traditional degree route and train on the job to become a nurse under a new initiative, it has been announced.
New degree-level apprenticeships are being set up which the government said will allow more people to become nurses, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills has announced.
The programme is targeted at top healthcare assistants, described by ministers as the “brightest and best”, who may not have the qualifications they need to do a nursing degree at university.
“We want the new norm to be for young people to either choose to go to university or begin an apprenticeship”
The Nursing Higher Apprenticeship will have a degree built into and will have to satisfy the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s standards, including the 50:50 balance between theory and practice learning. It must be delivered by one of the NMC’s approved education institutions.
The scheme is one of the recommendations made last year in the government-commissioned review carried out by journalist Camilla Cavendish into HCA standards and training.
A group of NHS organisations and private providers − dubbed trailblazers by the government − are developing the degree-level apprenticeship scheme in partnership with the body Health Education England.
They include Northampton Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Barchester Healthcare, Priory Group and Bupa UK.
Skills minister Matthew Hancock said: “We want the new norm to be for young people to either choose to go to university or begin an apprenticeship. This announcement is another step forward in making this the case.
“I would like to thank the organisations involved in this trailblazer project, and hope their future recommendations for the degree level nursing apprenticeship will provide the NHS and private providers with a group of highly skilled and confident nurses.”
“The nursing profession needs to hear more detail about how this scheme would be funded”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The comprehensive degree programme prepares potential nurses for the decisions they will need to make, through a combination of clinical placements and classroom study.
“Just last week, a wide ranging report proved the link between the proportion of degree educated nurses and significantly fewer patient deaths,” he noted.
Latest data from the seminal RN4CAST study showed having a better educated nursing workforce reduced unnecessary deaths. The study, published in the Lancet, found every 10% increase in the number of bachelor’s degree educated nurses within a hospital was associated with a 7% decline in patient mortality.
Dr Carter added: “We recognise that there is more than one way to prepare a caring person for the demands of this training, and apprenticeships will be a good route for some people.
“The nursing profession needs to hear more detail about how this scheme would be funded, and to be fully engaged in evaluating how well the schemes work in practice,” he said.
Sue Covill, director of employment services for NHS Employers, said: “Many employers are looking forward to implementing the degree level apprenticeship which not only supports their recruitment plans but also widens access into nursing for their local communities.”
However, universities expressed “serious concerns” that the development of a Higher Apprenticeship in Nursing would not tackle the barriers for support workers who have the potential to become registered nurses.
“It’s not clear what value this [programme] will add”
Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “The barriers for support workers accessing nursing degrees are usually either lack of equivalence of educational qualifications or lack of funding support. A higher apprenticeship will not in itself tackle these issues.”
Professor Ellis added: “With the existing flexibilities in work-based higher education, it’s not clear what value this [programme] will add. We need to focus on sorting out the funding and on making sure that appropriate education and training that enables support workers to progress to higher education is available to them.”
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