A multi-million pound government plan to train more apprentice nurses falls short of what is needed, the Royal College of Nursing has said.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said a package worth up to £172m will enable healthcare employers to take on up to 2,000 nursing degree apprentices every year over the next four years.
The NHS and other healthcare employers will receive £8,300 per placement per year for both new and existing apprenticeships.
The government said the funding will enable employers to meet the costs of taking on apprentices, including staffing costs while apprentices are undertaking education and training.
But Mike Adams, Royal College of Nursing director for England, said while it is welcome it does not go far enough.
He said: “This increase in places is a welcome step and we hope it will make a career in nursing more accessible for those fortunate enough to secure a place.
“It does, however, fall short of the wider investment needed to educate enough registered nurses for the future, ensuring health and care services have the staff needed.
“It is also the case that a full-time, three-year nursing degree remains the fastest way to deliver a registered nurse through education.
“The government must abolish self-funded tuition fees for all nursing students as well as introducing universal living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need if it is truly committed on delivering the 50,000 more nurses they promised.”
The DHSC said the number of people looking for information on nursing on the NHS careers website soared by 138% between March and June.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m thrilled to see a rising interest in nursing careers, but we must ensure this fantastic career is truly diverse and open to all.
“Nursing apprenticeships allow students to earn as they learn and this new funding will enable healthcare employers to hire thousands more, helping us to deliver 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament.”
Gillian Keegan, apprenticeships and skills minister, said nursing apprenticeships are “a brilliant way to start a truly rewarding career with our fantastic NHS”, adding: “Nurses are at the heart of our NHS and their care, compassion and support of patients save and transform lives across the country every day.”
The nursing degree apprenticeship is a four-year course with placements available in the four fields of adult, children, mental health and learning disability, after which students can qualify as fully registered nurses.
NHS and social care employers currently train around 1,000 nurse apprentices every year.
Nurses were among thousands of NHS workers who took to the streets across the UK on Saturday to demand better wages for staff.
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