Hunt promises nursing apprenticeships in bid to deliver more flexible careers

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, will announce a new nursing apprenticeship in a speech at the NHS Providers conference today.

The role means that aspiring nurses, including those already studying for a degree or working as healthcare assistants, will be able to train alongside their existing work.

The first apprentices are expected to start working in September 2017, with up to 1,000 eventually joining the NHS workforce every year.

Hunt will say: “Nurses are the lifeblood of our NHS, but the routes to a nursing degree currently shut out some of the most caring, compassionate staff in our country.

“I want those who already work with patients to be able to move into the jobs they really want and I know for many, this means becoming a nurse. Not everyone wants to take time off to study full-time at university so by creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse.”

Earlier this year, the DH pledged to create 17,000 apprenticeships a year across the NHS. But the Health Foundation warned recently that the department must develop a contingency plan for a drop in student nurse numbers following its decision to abolish bursaries.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: "Whilst this new apprenticeship model will provide a different opportunity, we need to be careful that their clinical experience is in a learning environment and they have access to graduate level education to gain the knowledge and skills required for 21st century health care, which are proved to have a direct effect on patient mortality. Nursing has progressed over many years, we must be careful to learn from the lessons of the past when student nurses were often seen as nursing on the cheap.

“We must be careful we do not create a two-tier system which reduces equality of opportunity. We need to attract people of all ages and from diverse backgrounds into the profession.

Gail Adams, head of nursing for Unison, said that the apprentices must be “properly paid and supported” to allow them to balance working and studying.

In his speech, Hunt will also confirm that the new nursing associate role will be accompanied by professional regulation, and that he is asking the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to begin the process.

Jackie Smith, chief executive and registrar of the NMC, said the organisation's council would decide whether it could take on the regulatory role at a meeting on 25 January.

She added: “We have worked closely with the government and other partners on the development of the nursing degree apprenticeship.

“Those following the new apprenticeship pathway will be trained against the NMC’s pre- registration standards ensuring all nurses joining the NMC’s register are equipped with the right skills, knowledge and experience to deliver safe and effective care.”

The nursing associate role has come into doubt recently after a study found that replacing nurses with nursing associates increases the rate of patient deaths.

Adams added: “Nursing associates shouldn’t be a substitute for registered nurses. Jeremy Hunt risks diluting the vital work of nurses.”

Hunt will also promise up to £200,000 to support the use of e-rostering in trusts, so they can manage staff rotas and staffing levels on wards and staff can check rotas online and make requests.

NHE will provide full coverage of the conference on Twitter and our website.

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