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Up to 2,000 nursing apprentices will be trained every year in England for the next four years thanks to new government funding, ministers have announced.
A funding package of up to £172m will enable the number of nursing apprenticeships to be doubled and contribute towards a much-needed expansion of the nursing workforce, said the Department of Health and Social Care.
Under the new scheme, employers will be helped the wider costs of taking on a nurse apprentice including the ‘backfill’ staff needed while apprentices are undertaking education and training.
The lack of support with these costs had previously been cited as a major barrier preventing widescale roll out of nursing apprenticeships.
However, unions and other health commentators have warned that the announcement still falls short of what is needed to address the nurse workforce crisis.
The cash is part of extra funding for apprenticeships announced in July as part of the Treasury’s Plan for Jobs 2020 aimed at tackling unemployment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The nursing degree apprenticeship is a four-year course that enables people to “earn as they learn” and qualify as a registered nurse in adult, children’s, mental health or learning disability nursing.
“We must ensure this fantastic career is truly diverse and open to all”
Currently NHS and social care employers train around 1,000 nurse apprentices every year.
But the new funding should see that double to around 2,000 each year for the next four years, according to the government.
The move comes during a surge in interest in careers in healthcare – partly inspired by the pandemic – with the number of people looking for information on nursing on the NHS Careers website increasing by 138% between March and June this year.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock (pictured above) said boosting nursing apprenticeships would enable more people to embark on careers in nursing.
“I’m thrilled to see a rising interest in nursing careers, but we must ensure this fantastic career is truly diverse and open to all,” he said.
“Nursing apprenticeships allow students to earn as they learn and this new funding will enable healthcare employers to hire thousands more, helping us to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament,” he added.
Nursing apprenticeships were “a brilliant way to start a truly rewarding career with our fantastic NHS”, added apprenticeships and skills minister Gillian Keegan.
“Nurses are at the heart of our NHS and their care, compassion and support of patients save and transform lives across the country every day,” she said.
“This multi-million-pound funding boost will help to support thousands of apprentices to gain the skills they need, and earn while they learn,” she added.
“It does, however, fall short of the wider investment needed to educate enough registered nurses for the future”
Nursing degree apprentices already receive a salary and have their tuition costs paid for by the apprenticeship programme.
Under the scheme, NHS and other healthcare employers will receive £8,300 per placement per year for both new and existing apprenticeships to cover the other costs associated with an apprentice.
In addition, employers in England will benefit from a new payment announced last month of £2,000 for each new apprentice they hire aged under 25, and £1,500 for each new apprentice they hire aged 25 and over – up to the end of January next year.
Commenting on the announcement, Mike Adams, Royal College of Nursing director for England, said: “This increase in places is a welcome step and we hope it will make a career in nursing more accessible for those fortunate enough to secure a place.
“It does, however, fall short of the wider investment needed to educate enough registered nurses for the future, ensuring health and care services have the staff needed.”
He noted that full-time nursing degrees remained the “fastest way to deliver a registered nurse through education”.
“The government must abolish self-funded tuition fees for all nursing students as well as introducing universal living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need if it is truly committed on delivering the 50,000 more nurses they promised,” he added.
Meanwhile, Sally Warren, director of policy at the King’s Fund think tank, welcomed the new investment in apprenticeships but warned that the announcement alone “will not solve chronic staff shortages in health and care services”.
She criticised the government for failing to produce a comprehensive workforce strategy as promised and instead coming out with “piecemeal announcements”.
“Delays to government spending decisions have left the health service without the long term investment and concrete commitments needed to recruit the doctors, nurses and other staff needed to address workforce shortages,” warned Ms Warren.
“Today’s announcement also leaves some unanswered questions for social care, a sector that went into the Covid-19 pandemic grappling with over 120,000 vacancies,” she added.