Nursing apprenticeships have come under fire from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which is demanding more investment in all training pathways.
In an education committee meeting, apprenticeships for nurses and nursing associates were accused of being more expensive and putting added pressure on the existing workforce – amid a shortage of approximately 40,000 nurses.
‘The big challenge we have is ensuring we’ve got a proper environment where students can be students and where patients can be kept safe,’ said Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN.
‘We are working in an environment where we have 40,000 registered nurse vacancies. These are the people who have to be the mentors and supervisors and their focus has to be providing safe care to patients.’
Jeremy Hunt announced nursing apprenticeships in November 2016 which included a nursing associate course, lasting 2 years, and the registered nurse apprenticeship lasting 4 years.
However, last year only 30 people took up the option of a nursing apprenticeship.
In the meeting on the 5 June, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, stated that apprenticeships cost employers an extra £35,000 to £40,000 per student every year throughout their 4-year course – and this money is ‘not readily’ available through the levy which was described by Mr Mortimer as ‘inflexible’.
The RCN believes the apprenticeships risk increasing pressure on the NHS as the responsibility of training new recruits falls on current staff. Currently, the levy does not cover the full cost of training, meaning that NHS Trusts are forced to pay for the excess.
Apprenticeships are not the answer to filling these vacancies, argues the RCN, which are the result of ‘poor policy’ and ‘saving money’ but a larger investment in nursing education is needed.
‘We need to have incentives for people to be able to have a university education as well as people having the opportunity via an apprenticeship. Both models need investment not just one over another,’ added Ms Davies.
Investment in all training pathways is required. However, while postgraduate courses are the fastest way for students to become qualified nurses, last month the government attempted to cushion the blow of removing of the postgraduate bursary by introducing ‘golden hellos’ –
a one-off £10,000 bursary for postgraduate students.