Degree-level apprenticeships are not a quick fix

The apprenticeship route into nursing has great potential but it must be properly funded

The apprenticeship route into nursing has great potential but it must be properly funded

Picture: iStock

I appeared before the Commons education select committee in June when it discussed nursing degree apprenticeships, looking at reasons behind the low level of take-up since the scheme was announced in 2016.

Degree-level apprenticeships could be a positive addition to the current routes into nursing, and there are a small number of high-quality programmes across the UK which are working well.

However, in England they were quickly introduced following the removal of funding for university undergraduate programmes, the introduction of student loans, the introduction of nurse associates and significant cuts in funding for continuing professional development.

To support workforce development in the future, apprenticeships must be seen as a valuable addition to current routes and not as a quick fix to the poor policy and funding decisions of the past.

Students enrolled on apprenticeships need to have access to safe and effective learning environments where they are supernumerary, have protected time to learn and where patient care isn’t compromised. They also require time away from the clinical areas, to study and gain the knowledge and academic skills to support their practice.

Apprenticeships must also provide a variety of clinical placements to meet the 21st century needs of the population. If we are to support the policy rhetoric of care closer to home, prevention as a priority, parity of esteem for mental health and health and social care integration, then apprenticeships should reflect this.

None of this is cheap, and the levy does not go anywhere near covering the cost. Employers are being faced with an almost impossible task. Spend more from a budget already overstretched or cut corners on the programme, either in placements, education or protected time in practice. We must learn from mistakes of the past, the mistakes that led to Project 2000 on nursing education.

Being able to bring more people into nursing is a good thing. To ensure we have a model landscape for nursing education we need investment in high-quality programmes, investment in mentors and supervisors and a clear plan which is properly funded and properly costed.

There is room for everyone in nursing education but not for mediocrity.

Janet Davies is RCN chief executive and general secretary

This article is for subscribers only