NHS leaders are calling on the Government to urgently reconsider its decision to scrap vocational Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) courses in health and social care or risk ‘severely exacerbating’ the nurse workforce crisis.
NHS Employers, which is part of the NHS Confederation, has penned a letter to the education secretary James Cleverly, warning that abandoning these qualifications will put at risk an ‘important health staffing pipeline that allows thousands of potential nursing and midwifery recruits to join degree courses each year’.
Healthcare leaders across England warned that bringing these qualifications to an end will stymy ‘an already very fragile’ health and social care recruitment sector ‘at a time when both the NHS and social care are plagued by chronic staff shortages’, with an estimated shortage of 150,000 in social care alone.
Recent Government education policy changes spell the end of the BTEC qualifications in health and social care by 2024, to be replaced by new two-year, post GCSE T-Level courses, which are being billed as an alternative to A-levels, apprenticeship and other aged 16-19 courses, introduced in June.
NHS leaders have warned that doing away with BTECs in health and social care will jeopardise the recruitment of a valuable cohort of future health and care staff due to a lack of suitable training pathways.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: ‘Abolishing these important BTEC courses in health and social care is an incredibly short-sighted decision by the Government.
‘At a time when the NHS is already extremely short staffed and carrying 105,000 vacancies, depriving the health service of a pipeline of fresh nursing, midwifery and other healthcare recruits, is both reckless and ill-advised and could well leave the NHS, as well as our colleagues in social care, to grapple with trying to fill several thousand more vacancies every year in the years to come.
‘At the very least, healthcare leaders would urge that the education secretary presses pause and undertakes an urgent impact assessment to better understand the consequences scrapping BTEC qualifications will have on the NHS and social care sector.’
Healthcare leaders said they feared that the higher-level entry grades for T-Level courses, coupled with the fact that they are only available to 16-19-year-olds, would mean thousands would be deterred from applying.
The new T-Level courses will also require a work placement in an NHS or social care setting, which leaders said they would struggle to provide without significant additional investment.
Around 30,000 students are studying for health and social care-related BTEC qualifications in England, of which approximately 14,700 are studying full time.
Data from 2017 from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed that around 7,000 (approximately 20%) of people on nurse degree training programmes joined these higher education courses by first completing a further education BTEC.
The figure was consistently higher than those who first took A-levels as an entry route to nurse degree training, which numbered around 6,000 a year on average.
Already, eight in 10 (83%) nurses have said the staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet patient needs, while NMC data showed that more than 25,000 registered nurses left the register last year alone.