Government sticks to its nursing associates target figure, despite low uptake

Nursing associate apprenticeships are almost 1,500 below projected numbers
Several students sat in a lecture theatre

Nursing associate apprenticeships are almost 1,500 below projected numbers

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The government said it remains committed to ensuring 'up to' 5,000 nursing associate apprentices begin their training this year – even though the figure stands at just 1,000 so far.

Health Education England had a target that 2,500 nursing associate apprentices would start in April this year. However, the government revealed in a written response to a question from shadow education secretary Angela Rayner that only 1,018 had been recruited by Easter.

Autumn starts

Nevertheless, a Department of Health and Social Care (DH) spokesperson told Nursing Standard: ‘Up to 5,000 nursing associates will be trained through the apprentice route in 2018. Health Education England is working to ensure the remaining apprentices begin training later this year, with many scheduled for autumn.’

The DH declined to comment on reasons for the almost 1,500 gap between planned and actual nursing apprenticeships. 

The nursing associates role was introduced by the government in England to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and nurses.

‘Total shambles’

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the government’s workforce planning was ‘a total shambles’ and said a Labour government would reinstate the nursing student bursary.

The party pointed to Department for Education statistics that show the total number of people starting apprenticeships across all relevant NHS staff groups fell by more than a third (36%) between 2015-16 and 2017-18. 

Issues with apprenticeships

When the Commons education committee met last month, a range of reasons why NHS employers have struggled to embrace apprenticeships were discussed. These included:

  • Trusts want to be able to use the apprenticeship levy to backfill staffing when the apprentice is supernumerary or in training. Apprenticeship and skills minister Anne Milton MP, who is a former nurse, will not agree to this.
  • Employers would like more time to access their apprentice levy funds – they currently have two years.
  • Nursing and Midwifery Council accreditation is limited to higher education institutions, when further education colleges might be better placed to offer localised training.

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