When the Department of Health announced the scrapping of student bursaries for nurses, there was an outcry from many in the industry who feared the changes would discourage potential trainees and worsen an already serious employment crisis. Therefore, the recent announcement of a new nursing apprenticeship scheme could well be welcome news to a profession under strain.
Traditionally, NHS nurses complete an undergraduate degree before progressing in their career but – from September 2017 – up to 1000 staff members will have the opportunity to train on-the-job instead as part of the new scheme. Training will last for up to five years and end with receipt of a nursing degree, with trainees entering the course at the relevant level depending on previous experience and qualifications.
Funding for the training will come from the trainees’ chosen trust, with the NHS providing a small amount of extra financial support by way of travel costs and other expenses.
The Answer to Staff Shortages?
The Department of Health hopes the announcement will address fears over staff shortages as well as providing a new and financially solvent means of entering the nursing profession.
“Not everyone wants to take time off to study full time at university,” said Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. “By creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse.”
The starting point of the apprenticeship scheme is also scheduled to coincide with the cutting of student nurse funding, which will see current nursing bursaries of up to £5500 slashed and regular university fees installed – a move which has likely been taken in hopes of neutralising the negative effects of the latter.
The news though, has not been welcomed by everyone. While the Royal College of Nursing has acknowledged the benefits of providing a more varied means of entering the profession, chief executive Janet Davies has warned against the potential for a ‘two-tier system’ which values university-trained nurses over apprenticeship nurses, or sees the latter as a cheaper alternative.
Public service union Unison has also warned against the scheme as an excuse to find ‘cheap alternatives’ rather than addressing the real issues behind staff shortages, as well as highlighting concerns that an increased amount of nurses training on the job could put patients at risk.
If the union’s concerns can be addressed there is a chance that the apprenticeship scheme could mean good things for nursing, providing trainees with a different route into the profession that enables them to earn-while-they-learn and to exit training with both a degree and relevant work experience. However, it remains to be seen whether the financial benefits will make up for the bursaries lost and whether training on the job is really the best thing for both nurses and their patients.
As big advocates of apprenticeships we know how well they can work and the value they add to businesses in all sectors, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on this scheme to track its progress. As always, if you have an opinion on this we’d love to hear it, so please leave a comment or message us via our Facebook page.