Barriers to nursing apprenticeships need tearing down

The House of Commons Education Committee has said that nursing degree apprenticeships as a successful and sustainable route into the profession will forever be a mirage unless barriers to delivery are torn down.

Nursing Degree Apprenticeships: In Poor Health? claims that the government’s vision of nursing degree apprenticeships being a realistic and sustainable route into the nursing profession is a mirage’, stating that there is ‘no evidence’ to show how the government intends to meet a target of 400 nursing associates progressing to degree apprenticeships from 2019.

Warning that the uptake of nursing degree apprenticeships has been far too slow, with no more than 30 starters beginning training through the scheme last year, the committee calls for much greater flexibility in the system and the use of the apprenticeships levy.

Robert Halfon, chair of the committee, said: "The idea that degree apprenticeships are a realistic route into the profession is currently a mirage. Ambitious targets are simply not going to be met. There has been a distinct absence of a strategic grasp of the need for nursing degree apprenticeships. The Department for Education must act now to tear down the barriers that are preventing the system being used to its full potential and ensure every future nurse has a real choice about their route into the profession.

“Ministers must now recognise the uniqueness of the health service’s position and allow flexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy so these apprenticeships can be made to work for both the employer and students. While on their own they will not solve the nursing workforce crisis, no-one should be prevented from undertaking a nursing degree apprenticeship due to lack of availability. Nursing degree apprenticeships offer an alternative to those put off by the cost of pursuing the full university degree route.

“By removing the road blocks, we can ensure that the NHS can play its part in tackling our economy’s skills shortages, give every student a choice about how they progress and ensure nursing degree apprenticeships are a reality rather than a mirage."

The Royal College of Nursing has echoed the need for government investment in nursing higher education, urging the government to invest at least £1 billion into nursing higher education to help fill the growing number of nurse vacancies in England.

Anne Corrin, head of Professional Learning and Development at the RCN, said: “Nursing degree apprenticeships are far from the magic bullet the government promised to grow nurse numbers and keep patients safe. They are trapped in a tangle of regulation that offers cash-strapped employers little incentive to run schemes and recruit apprentices. Take up is very low. We support the recommendations in the report that seek to address these issues.

“However, we are concerned the report suggests a more flexible approach to students’ learning status. The RCN is clear that the government must commit to maintaining supernumerary status for nursing apprentices, so that they are not counted in staffing numbers. Supernumerary status is vital if apprenticeships are to provide the safe route into nursing that patients deserve.”

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