Hundreds of nursing degree apprenticeships planned, but cost concerns remain

The RCN has welcomed new funding to develop hundreds of nursing degree apprenticeships, but remains concerned employers have no new money for salaries.

The RCN has welcomed new funding to develop hundreds of nursing degree apprenticeships, but remains concerned employers have no new money for salaries

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About a dozen universities have been given share in a £4.9 million fund to enable them to develop nursing degree apprenticeships with NHS employers.

But there is concern about how individual trusts will cope with the extra financial burden of introducing the role, and fear that the costs could turn out to be, in effect, a ‘stealth tax’.

Expensive option

The nursing degree apprentice role was unveiled in November last year and championed as a way to help healthcare assistants and others become nurses. Nurse apprentices will receive a salary of £16,968 to £19,852 to undertake the four-year part-time course.

Employers are responsible for paying apprentices’ wages and can access government funding, known as the national apprenticeship levy, to pay their universities fees. However, those with an annual wage bill of £3 million or more pay into the levy to cover these costs.

An RCN spokesperson said while the college welcomes the new funding, it ‘remains concerned it does not address employer fears that degree-level apprenticeships are expensive, as they have no new money to pay salaries and the levy comes from existing funding’.

The £4.9 million, announced by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, will enable 63 universities to develop degree apprenticeships in careers ranging from nursing and social work to construction and engineering from September 2018.

Workforce issues

Coventry University pro-vice chancellor for health Guy Daly said: ‘We have great appetite from trusts for nursing degree apprenticeships. But the apprenticeship levy doesn’t support salary and backfill, and that is still proving a block.

‘It probably means trusts will have to replace parts of their health workforce, such as healthcare assistants.

‘The government should consider allowing the levy to pay for not just education and training but also apprentice salaries. Otherwise some trusts might see it as a stealth tax and think “why do we bother, when we can rely on universities providing training for nursing students for free?”.’

Preferred pathway

Southampton Solent University health school director Michelle Jones confirmed that, as a result of the funding, 60 places will be available at the school for nursing degree apprentices.

‘We will be recruiting apprentices, in conjunction with our NHS partners, from our existing foundation-level health and social care apprenticeships, and other regional students who might prefer the learning approach of a degree apprenticeship.’

University of Cumbria head of nursing department Louise Nelson said: ‘Alongside our partners, we will now be able to recruit 150 additional apprentices, eventually delivering a large cohort of nurses.’

A consortium of institutions in West Yorkshire, led by Leeds Trinity University and including the universities of Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds and Leeds Beckett, will offer 50 nursing apprenticeships.

Other universities that received funds include Birmingham City, Middlesex University, Suffolk and Keele.

Sheffield Hallam University said it is working on future plans for an apprenticeship course. A spokesperson said: ‘We are working closely with NHS trusts in the region to investigate the demand and co-design a nursing degree apprenticeship.’

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