News

Jeremy Hunt unveils details of nursing degree apprenticeships – and calls for regulation of nursing associate role

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled plans for the new nursing degree apprenticeships.
Jeremy hunt

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled further details of the new nursing degree apprenticeships

As part of the nursing degree apprenticeship scheme, student nurses will be able to train on the job rather than undertaking a traditional degree, in a move that could see up to 1,000 apprentice nurses joining the NHS each year.

The Department of Health confirmed that apprentice nurses would complement fully-qualified nurses, and would have their salary set locally.

Another new role that of nursing associate has come under fire recently, with some citing concerns about nursing on the cheap. The nursing associate role is intended to be a bridge between fully-qualified nurses and

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has unveiled further details of the new nursing degree apprenticeships


Jeremy Hunt said that nurses were the ‘lifeblood’ of the NHS, ‘but the routes to a nursing degree
currently shut out some of the most caring staff in our country’. Picture: John Houlihan

As part of the nursing degree apprenticeship scheme, student nurses will be able to train on the job rather than undertaking a traditional degree, in a move that could see up to 1,000 apprentice nurses joining the NHS each year.

The Department of Health confirmed that apprentice nurses would complement fully-qualified nurses, and would have their salary set locally. 

Another new role – that of nursing associate – has come under fire recently, with some citing concerns about ‘nursing on the cheap’. The nursing associate role is intended to be a bridge between fully-qualified nurses and healthcare assistants.

Public service union Unison has said the government must tackle the shortage of nurses head-on, rather than looking for ‘cheap alternatives’.

2017 roll out

Under the nursing degree apprenticeship scheme, apprentice nurses could be on NHS wards from next September.

They may include people who work as healthcare assistants or those already working towards nursing qualifications.

While nursing associates may wish to stay in their role and not progress to becoming a fully-qualified nurse, those on the nursing degree apprenticeship scheme are expected to fulfil all requirements to become a registered nurse.

Trainees will join the apprenticeship at different stages, depending on their qualifications and experience. 

In a keynote speech at the NHS Providers annual conference and exhibition on Wednesday, Mr Hunt said: ‘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.

‘Stronger regime’

‘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.’

Mr Hunt also addressed a central criticism of the new nursing associate role, that they are able to administer controlled drugs to patients.

Mr Hunt said that statutory professional regulation will be a necessary requirement for the new nursing associate role, under the stewardship of the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

He added that allowing nursing associates to administer medicines, ‘means that a stronger regime of assurance is necessary to ensure safe and effective clinical practice’.

Patient safety risk

‘Nursing associates are not there to replace registered nurses, but to support and complement them,’ he said. ‘But I have listened carefully to what has been said and agree that, on balance, statutory professional regulation is a necessary and proportionate requirement for this important new role.’

Research published in November found that patients were a fifth more likely to die in hospitals where nurses are replaced with lower-skilled nursing assistants.

The study found that for every 25 patients, substituting just one qualified nurse with a nursing assistant was associated with a 21% rise in the likelihood of patients dying in hospital, where there is an average nurse staffing level and skill mix.

One of the researchers, Peter Griffiths, chair of health services research at the University of Southampton, said the new nursing degree apprentice role could ‘provide real opportunity to those who are put off nursing by the onerous financial burdens since bursaries for nursing students were abolished’.

No substitute 

But he added: ‘It will be important to ensure that these courses are just as rigorous as standard routes, and that the programmes are properly evaluated.

‘We have seen in our research that lower levels of qualification in the nursing workforce is associated with higher mortality. That relates to both qualified versus unqualified nurses, but also the academic level of qualified nurses.’

Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: ‘Nursing degree apprentices need to be properly paid and supported, or they'll be unable to balance studying for a degree with the pressures of work.

‘And nursing associates shouldn’t be a substitute for registered nurses. Jeremy Hunt risks diluting the vital work of nurses in providing compassionate and dignified care to patients.’


Further information:

In other news: 

Sign up to continue reading for FREE

OR

Subscribe for unlimited access

Enjoy 1 month's access for £1 and get:

  • Full access to nursing standard.com and the Nursing Standard app
  • Monthly digital edition
  • RCNi Portfolio and interactive CPD quizzes
  • RCNi Learning with 200+ evidence-based modules
  • 10 articles a month from any other RCNi journal

This article is not available as part of an institutional subscription. Why is this?

Jobs