Student nurses will no longer have to complete a degree to enter the profession in a move aimed at helping those who can’t afford university.
Under a new apprenticeship scheme set to be announced by the Health Secretary today, trainee nurses will be able to earn a wage while learning on the wards.
“Nurses are the lifeblood of our NHS, but the routes to a nursing degree currently shut out some of the most caring, compassionate staff in our country,” Jeremy Hunt is due to say at an NHS conference in Birmingham.
Hunt will also say: “Not everyone wants to take time off to study full time at university so by creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse.
“I want those who already work with patients to be able to move into the jobs they really want and I know for many, this means becoming a nurse.”
From September 2017, 1,000 of these apprentice nurses will join the NHS each year.
Apprentices will be able to join training at different stages depending on their qualifications and experience.
The apprenticeship is set to be introduced a month after the government scraps bursaries for student nurses and midwives, replacing them with student loans that will have to be paid back.
But experts argue that allowing health workers other than fully registered nurses to care for patients and carry out nursing tasks increases the risk of death for patients.
Unison has said that the government must tackle the shortage of nurses head on rather than look for “cheap alternatives”.
Health sciences professor at the University of Southampton, Peter Griffiths, said the new nurse apprentice role could “provide real opportunity to those who are put off nursing by the onerous financial burdens since bursaries for nursing students were abolished”.
But he added: “It will be important to ensure that these courses are just as rigorous as standard routes and that the programmes are properly evaluated.
“We have seen in our research that lower levels of qualification in the nursing workforce is associated with higher mortality. That relates to both qualified versus unqualified nurses, but also the academic level of qualified nurses.”