A new degree-level apprenticeship for healthcare assistants will be developed by a group of NHS organisations, nursing representative bodies and private providers to widen access to nursing the Department of Health (DH) has announced.
The Nursing Higher Apprenticeship will give care workers the opportunity to progress into nursing, giving them a chance to use their vocational experience of working as a healthcare assistant to advance their career.
Matthew Hancock, the skills and enterprise minister, said: 'We want the new norm to be for young people to either choose to go to university or begin an apprenticeship. This announcement is another step forward in making this the case.'
The apprenticeship was one of the recommendations made in the independent review carried out by journalist Camilla Cavendish after the Francis Inquiry.
Health minister, Dr Dan Poulter said: 'This new apprenticeship will help healthcare support workers who have demonstrated a track record of delivering high quality care to get on in life, and break through the glass ceiling that has in the past prevented people from poorer backgrounds from entering nursing and other healthcare professions.'
Since nursing became a degree-only profession from September 2013, the nursing apprenticeship will have a degree at it's core and will have to adhere to NMC standards, said the DH. The group involved in the development will ensure that on completion, apprentices will have the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to perform nursing duties, meeting their employers' and professional registration requirements.
The reaction to the apprenticeship scheme has been varied.
Peter Bradley, editor of the British Journal of Healthcare Assistants, said: 'Nursing apprenticeships will not be for everyone, but, provided that the implementation of the apprenticeship is well thought out and financially viable, it is welcome as one more choice among several open to the sector. It is important that clarity rather than confusion should be the end of the process, so we can secure an integrated approach to creating a workforce that is both knowledge able and caring.'
However, Professor Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, expressed reservations about where the scheme will fit into the nursing education system.
'The barriers for support workers accessing nursing degrees are usually either lack of equivalence of educational qualifications or lack of funding support. A higher apprenticeship will not in itself tackle these issues.'
'With the existing flexibilities in work-based higher education, it's not clear what value this will add. We need to focus on sorting out the funding and on making sure that appropriate education and training which enables support workers to progress to higher education is available to them,' he said.