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DHSC’s £172m for nursing apprenticeships ‘will not solve workforce gap’



The government’s £172m nursing apprenticeships package will not be enough to plug the workforce gap, nursing leaders have warned.

Healthcare workers will be able to take on 2,000 nursing degree apprenticeships every year for the next four years with the £172m funding, the Department for Health and Social Care said today.

But the RCN union, King’s Fund think-tank and prominent voices in nursing did not believe this would reverse the high number of vacancies in the profession, which stood at around 40,000 in heath and care settings England before Covid-19 hit.

Mike Adams, RCN director for England, said the investment fell ‘short of the wider investment needed to educate enough registered nurses for the future, ensuring health and care services have the staff needed’.

He added: ‘The full-time three-year nursing degree remains the best way to increase domestic nursing supply at the scale and pace needed.’

Emeritus professor of nursing June Girvin agreed, tweeting: ‘Best way to help the registered nurse workforce shortage is via 3yr degree programme (it’s the fastest/ most efficient), & by meaningful retention work. Apprenticeships have had limited success & some may say exploitative. Keeping student time separate from job time is difficult.’

Alison Leary, chair of healthcare & workforce modelling at London South Bank University, and a fellow of the RCN and Queen’s Nursing Institute, asked on Twitter: ‘Why are government investing in something that has had limited success already? There are far more viable options to increase the supply of RNs and retention ie investing in the current workforce should be a priority.’

Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, said the move ‘alone will not solve chronic staff shortages in health and care services’.

The DHSC said the nursing degree apprenticeships would provide a route into nursing where people can train to nationally recognised standards and earn as they learn. This would benefit those for whom a full-time university course is not practical or preferred, it added.

Health secretary Matt Hancock claimed: ‘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.’

The government said the number of people looking for information on nursing on the NHS careers website rose by 138% between March and June.

Nursing in Practice reported two years ago a lack flexibility in the apprenticeship levy used to fund nurse degree apprenticeships was ‘limiting the progress’ of these courses.

NHS England released its People Plan for 2020/21 last week, which urged employers to ensure clinical roles were more ‘flexible’.