Creating the future nursing workforce (and saving the NHS millions)

Student nurses at the University of Sunderland

Published on 02 October 2018

Our employer-led nursing degree apprenticeship programme, developed in partnership with North East NHS Trusts, has the potential to save the NHS millions of pounds.

The pioneering scheme aims to perfectly balance academic study with clinical experience and could ultimately be rolled out across the UK. The programme aims to address the needs of modern day nursing, which has long suffered from significant staffing shortages in some areas and specialities.

But how do you up-skill the health care workers already on the North East’s hospital wards and in clinical teams to Nurse registrant status, without taking them away from their patients?

Professor Sheila McQueen, one of the region’s leading nurses and the University’s Professor of Nursing and Continuous Professional Education collaborated with local NHS Foundation Trusts to come up with a game-changing solution, which could ease the current ‘training backfill’ bill facing each NHS Trust. She said: “When I first started talking to the North East Trusts about nursing degree apprenticeship programmes they were saying ‘we’re looking for an innovative approach… a cost-effective programme and a way to minimize what could be a £6 million bill to backfill’.”

The proposal that Professor McQueen and colleagues came up with was, instead of shortening the programme, extending it - to up to five years for entry level students - allowing a more manageable balance of work and study for the nurse apprentices, she continued: “Initially, I could only think the same as everyone else - condense the time, it seemed the only solution, but this was not what the Trusts wanted. If we want to send 10 healthcare assistants to train to become registrants Trusts have to backfill, otherwise who will do the patient care work while they are studying? You can’t lose 10 people from your workforce, even reducing a programme to two years – that’s huge.

“The other issue is expecting the students to manage a two-year programme academically, on top of working. Some of the Health care assistants will make wonderful registered nurses, but have not had the opportunities to prepare themselves academically for higher education and instead need a framework of support to help them quickly progress to the required standard. If I’m a registrant and I want to progress to become an advanced practitioner I do my continuous professional development (CPD) in employment, I work and reflect on practice, using my normal work as part of my study. So if a healthcare assistant wants to be a registrant why are they different? What we've done is to use the CPD work-based learning model…”

The CPD model allows recognition of prior practice experience as a Health Care Assistant, widening access to the profession and complements the recruitment to traditional pre-registration programmes. And it’s a move which could well prove a game-changer when it comes to balancing the work-study quandary the region’s hospital trusts have been juggling.

The NHS Trusts working in partnership with University of Sunderland on the Nursing Degree Apprenticeship, offering advice and supporting its development.

The result... approximately 80 apprentice Registered Nurses are expected in the first January 2019 intake. These apprentices will be seconded from within employment across five local NHS Trusts to study Adult, or Learning Disability or Mental Health nursing.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Young, said: “This is a new, employer-led model that will upskill those with years of experience of caring for patients to become registrants, in a timescale that is manageable for the apprentices and does not require hospitals to backfill their workforce. It’s the first time we have seen the integration of professional practice and work based learning and I’m very pleased that the model has been so well received by our health partners.”

Professor Tony Alabaster, Academic Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing said: “This new programme typifies the kind of innovative, problem-solving approach we encourage in this Faculty and at this University. Our pioneering Nursing Degree Apprenticeship was co-created with our NHS partners, in response to their need for an affordable, sustainable way to develop high-level skills within their workforce.”

Professor McQueen concluded: “The model and partnership with Trusts has received high praise from the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and has the potential to become a national model for the NHS as well as being adopted to develop the nursing workforce for private care providers. Nurses can come in at entry level, progress to full registrant status by meeting the Nursing and Midwifery standards, and obtain a degree. Not many professions can offer quite that breadth of development opportunity.”

Q&A: Nursing Degree Apprenticeships – who are they for, why are they different and how will they help? Our pioneering Nursing Degree Apprenticeship programme aims to address the nursing shortage, up-skill our medics and save the NHS millions, balancing study with on-the-ward working.  

So, who is this programme for?

Apprentices will already have a minimum of two years’ experience with patients, although many will have had much more.

With the continuous professional development (CPD) model the apprentices are already experienced, gaining more experience, skills and academic knowledge as they progress. The programme will allow apprentices to reflect on their practice and how to improve their skills and approach as they progress.

Ok, so how exactly does it work?

Apprentices are allocated an Apprentice Educational Supervisor in Practice (AESiP) who will be there to help and support them throughout.

The AESiP will meet with their apprentice once a week and oversee their whole educational journey. The whole programme will be employer-led.

How is this model different from others?

Professor Sheila McQueen is the University of Sunderland’s Professor of Nursing, her solution to the study/work quandary is for the apprentices to do two days a week on their base ward, then three days a week supervised in advanced practice – but still in work, helping patients.

Ultimately, those taking part are still contributing 50% of their time to their original role – helping NHS bosses who would otherwise have to backfill.

So, although it’s taking up to five years, in reality it’s actually a maximum of two and a half because they are contributing half of their time to work.

Who is the apprenticeship for?

Those working in a hospital with two or more years’ experience of working with patients.

Entry level would be a healthcare assistant without an NVQ, who would begin at a very manageable pace and study for up to five years.

A healthcare assistant with an NVQ Level 3 could become a registrant in four years.

An assistant practitioner with a foundation degree could complete the programme in three years, while a nursing associate would take only two years to become a registered nurse.

At all entry levels the apprentices would contribute 50% of their time to their core role, which appeals to Health Care Trusts.

How can I find out more?

The Nursing Degree Apprenticeships are open to those already working in a hospital, with two or more years’ experience, including Healthcare Assistants and Assistant Practitioners. Agreement on who would join the Degree Apprenticeship would be made between the existing NGS staff and their employer Trust.

What if I want to be a nurse but don’t already work at a hospital?

Anyone thinking about applying for a place on one of the University of Sunderland’s Undergraduate Nursing programmes can book a place on the Nursing and Paramedic Open Evening(link is external), 4 – 7pm, Wednesday 21 November 2018.

The open evening is for anyone interested in the following degree programmes:

BSc (Hons) Adult Nursing Practice

BSc (Hons) Mental Health Nursing Practice

BSc (Hons) Learning Disability Nursing Practice

BSc (Hons) Paramedic Science and Out of Hospital Care  

Which Trusts is the University partnering with?