A lack of flexibility in the apprenticeship levy used to fund nurse degree apprenticeships is ‘limiting the progress’ of these courses, according to the head of NHS Employers, after it was revealed only 30 people started a nurse apprenticeship course last year.
At a Government education committee on Tuesday morning, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer claimed that one of the biggest factors limiting progress of nursing degree apprenticeships is the ‘inflexibility’ in the funding offered to employers.
He made the claim when it was put to him by Conservative MP Trudy Harrison that nurse degree apprenticeships are ‘not working’ as only 30 people took up the option last year.
He told the committee: ‘There is inflexibility in the apprenticeship levy, as a matter of policy, which means the degree apprenticeships are a very expensive way to train a nurse. It means we can’t properly fund the time that we need to release our nursing apprentices.
‘The Department for Education do not recognise that nursing degree apprenticeships are very different from the other apprenticeships on offer, and they will not allow the flexibility in terms of the release of time for the students to train properly. They will not allow us to fund the time to put in place the supervision and on-the-job practice development that students need. And they will not extend the timescale to allow us to access the levy to spend on nursing degree apprenticeships.’
He added that the amount of money needed to train a nurse apprentice wasn’t ‘readily available’ elsewhere.
He said: ‘For employers, a nursing degree apprenticeship generates an extra £35-40,000 per year, per student, of additional cost for four years. And that money is not readily available other than through the levy.
‘Employers accept there will be some cost to bear, but they would like the full two and a half days of release for students funded [as opposed to the one day that is funded now] and no restrictions on access to the levy’.
Chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing Janet Davies told the committee that the general feeling is that the Government have shifted the cost of training nurses.
She said: ‘Many of the directors of nursing that we talk to feel the cost of training has just been transferred from the Government to employers, who are already overstretched.
‘It is not chance that we have the level of vacancies that we have. This was because of poor policy, and saving money in the past. Apprenticeships themselves will not fix this. We need a whole picture of where we need investment in nursing education.
‘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.’
At the Conservative Party conference last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced ‘an extra 5,000 training places’ for nurses each year, including nursing degree apprenctice places at universities around the country.
Only 17 sites have committed to offer these courses at some point in the future, but not all are currently available to students.