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Concern over capacity for apprentice and associate placements

The RCN says existing registered nurses will face increased pressure due to the volume of placements needed for new training programmes.

The RCN has voiced concerns about how existing nurses will cope with the volume of placements needed for the new nursing degree apprenticeship and nursing associate programmes.


The expected number of nursing degree apprentices and nurse associate trainees requiring
placements will challenge capacity on wards, the RCN has warned. Picture: Tim George

The nursing degree apprenticeships scheme will see up to 1,000 people a year qualify as registered nurses by training on the job, rather than completing a traditional degree.

In addition, recruits started training this month for the nursing associate role, which is intended to sit between that of healthcare assistant and registered nurse.

RCN head of education Anne Corrin, who is also on the Health Education England implementation group for nursing associates, said the group has been discussing the importance of current registered nurses and patients understanding the new courses.

Increased pressure

She told Nursing Standard: ‘I do feel for nurses who are in practice now, they need to know what they can and can’t delegate and how to do it in an appropriate way. All these new students will have different learning outcomes and assessments and this puts pressure on current staff already struggling to cope.

‘The RCN position is that all this is happening very quickly and we are worried about placement capacity for all these new learners. If they are on the same ward and department it could be quite difficult for staff nurses working there.

‘I know there is a big appetite among employers for nursing associates, but whether that will be the same for nursing apprentices remains to be seen.’

Last week the government released further details of the new nursing degree apprenticeships, which will start in September 2017.

Apprenticeship details

This included a link to a provisional degree apprenticeship standard, covering the occupational profile, responsibilities and duty of the role, entry requirements, qualifications and professional registration. Details include:

  • Anyone can become an apprentice nurse, providing they meet the entry requirements for the degree programme set out in the apprenticeship standards, and their employer believes they are capable of the academic learning required to become a degree registered nurse.
  • Most nursing degree apprenticeships will take four years. If the apprentice has prior learning and experience that is accepted by the approved education institution it could be completed in less time.
  • Before starting, apprentices will have their numeracy and literacy skills assessed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) approved education institution.
  • Nursing degree apprentices will not have to fund the degree themselves, as the cost of the apprenticeship will be covered by employers. Their salaries should be set locally.
  • Qualified apprentices should meet the qualification requirements to apply for registration with the NMC.

The NMC has stated that those following the new apprenticeship pathway will be trained against the NMC’s pre-registration standards, although the regulator is currently revising undergraduate standards for nurses and midwives and developing a standards framework for universities and placement providers.

The announcement of nursing degree apprenticeships has prompted a mixed response from the nursing profession.

Anne Marie Rafferty, professor at the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College London, said: ‘The fact that degree apprenticeships are not be held to a different standard in terms of the NMC is reassuring.

'But as always, the devil is in the implementation detail, so we will have to see what emerges in due course.’


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