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

This will be launched by the University of Sunderland.

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.

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 Prof 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 said: “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.

“With Mark Robinson, a curriculum consultant colleague, we brought together what we know, which is nursing and continuous professional development (CPD) education.

“We understood the pressure they were under and wanted to find a solution.


Professor Sheila McQueen, one of the region’s leading nurses and the University’s Professor of Nursing and Continuous Professional Education

“If I’m a registrant and I want to progress to become an advanced practitioner I do my CPD in employment, I work, I reflect on practice, using my normal work as part of my study.

“I wouldn’t come out to study to improve my skills and learning, I do that study in the workplace.

“So if a healthcare assistant wants to be a registrant why are they different? Use the CPD work based learning model… and that’s what we’ve done.”

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.

In partnership with University of Sunderland the NHS Trusts advised and supported the Nursing Degree Apprenticeship’s development.

The result is that 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.”

Prof McQueen added: “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.”

Professor Tony Alabaster, Academic Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Wellbeing added: “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.”

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