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Nurse apprenticeship not sustainable unless barriers are removed, say MPs

Nursing degree apprenticeships will not be a sustainable route into the profession until barriers to delivery are removed, a committee of MPs has said.

In its report on nursing apprenticeships, the Education Committee said that the uptake of nursing degree apprenticeships has been far too slow, with just 30 starters beginning training through the scheme last year.

In addition, the Committee said that the Government has no evidence of how it plans to meet the target of 400 nursing associates progressing to degree apprenticeships from 2019.

They claim there is currently ‘little incentive’ for the NHS to spend time and resource building nurse apprenticeships, with concerns over affordability raised by universities and NHS Employers, and have called on the Government to offer more flexibility with the apprenticeship levy.

The levy was designed to cover the cost of an apprentice undertaking off-the-job training for 20% of their contracted hours, yet the Nursing and Midwifery Council requires nursing degree apprentices to undertake off-the-job training for 50% of their hours. This creates financial challenges for employers, as they are required to pay apprentice salaries and backfill salaries for the 50% of the time apprentices are off-the-job.

But the apprenticeship levy cannot be used to cover backfill costs for the time during which apprentices are supernumerary, and the Committee has asked the Government that employers be allowed to use the levy for this purpose.

Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee, said: ‘The idea that degree apprenticeships are a realistic route into the profession is currently a mirage. Ambitious targets are simply not going to be met. There has been a distinct absence of a strategic grasp of the need for nursing degree apprenticeships. The Department for Education must act now to tear down the barriers that are preventing the system being used to its full potential and ensure every future nurse has a real choice about their route into the profession.

‘The DfE has shown a lack of imagination and foresight and not enough attention has been given to adapting apprenticeships to meet the needs of the NHS.

‘Ministers must now recognise the uniqueness of the health service’s position and allow flexibility in the use of the apprenticeship levy so these apprenticeships can be made to work for both the employer and students.’

The report also called for the funding band for nursing degree apprenticeships to remain at a minimum of £27,000 and for the Institute for Apprenticeships to consider increasing it.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: ‘Employers in the NHS have raised significant concerns about the use of the apprenticeship levy to train our future nurses.

‘Employers remain committed to using this route to develop future nurses and committed to apprenticeships more generally. However, as the Committee points out, the current restrictions on the use of the levy act as a serious disincentive to the development of nurse apprentices.

‘In common with other major employers, the NHS needs to see reform of the apprenticeship levy to enable it to deliver the government's apprenticeship agenda.’