Health Education England this week announced that a ‘flexible’ nursing degree – where the theory is largely delivered online – will be available from January next year.
The online component of the ‘blended’ nursing programme will better allow students to balance family or carer roles with their education, and help develop a workforce of ‘digitally expert’ nurses with access to innovative technologies, the body said.
The seven universities that have signed up to the degree have agreed to look for ‘new student markets’ and embrace ‘widening participation’ of different student groups, said HEE director of innovation and transformation Patrick Mitchell.
Mr Mitchell continued: ‘This approach has been accelerated by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it will really help to enable wider access to nursing degrees for people who may previously have had barriers to a nursing career.’
Most of the theory in the course will be delivered online, although some face-to-face sessions may still be offered.
The idea of online nursing degrees was first suggested in the NHS Long Term Plan at the start of 2019 as part of an attempt to expand the nursing workforce.
The universities offering the course are: Open University & Middlesex University, Open University & University of West of England, Coventry University, University of Huddersfield, University of Sunderland, University of Gloucestershire and Birmingham City University.
Applications can be made from the autumn this year.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘This world-leading, new, blended degree will equip the next generation of nurses with that expertise from the get go.
‘It will also open doors by providing more flexible learning options to attract a more diverse range of applicants.’
The announcement came coupled with an additional £10m to expand the number of clinical placements for nursing, midwifery and selected allied health professional students.
Applications to nursing degrees are up by 6% with 45,430 applying by the 2020 January deadline, a rise from 43,630 at the same point in 2019 – but vacancies remain on courses, University and College Admissions Service figures have shown.
Last month, student nurses furiously reacted to minister for care Helen Whately suggesting they were not ‘deemed to be providing a service’.