The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has doubled down on its opposition of the scaling up of nurse apprenticeships, warning that the profession “deserves its place in the university system”.
Pat Cullen, RCN chief executive and general secretary, reiterated the college’s position on nursing apprenticeships during her keynote address at the RCN Congress this week in Brighton.
In her speech, which was broadcast live to people across the UK through the national mainstream media, Ms Cullen said funding instead needed to focus on university-based nurse education.
It comes after NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard suggested earlier this month that the upcoming NHS workforce plan was going to support an expansion of degree apprenticeships as a way to train nurses and doctors.
However, Ms Cullen said: “The government will not solve this challenge by focusing on apprenticeships. The focus and the money has to be through the university-based degree.
“Faced with another shortfall in student numbers, taking us away from university will be a move in the wrong direction,” she said.
“We settled this debate some years ago, didn’t we? We are a graduate profession and nursing deserves its place in our university system.”
Nurse apprenticeships usually last four years and see students carry out paid work in the NHS while they study to become a registered nurse and the tuition fees are covered by employers.
In her speech, Ms Cullen suggested that it was not fair that, under this new system of apprenticeships and traditional degrees, some nurses would have to pay for their education and others would not.
“Our students deserve to be treated the same way in every part of the UK,” said Ms Cullen at the union’s annual conference.
“We are a graduate profession and nursing deserves its place in our university system”
“No government should be asking nursing students to pay tuition fees when there are record numbers needed so urgently,” she told delegates.
Conversely, university leaders have previously spoken out to say that degree apprenticeships offer the same quality of education for nurses as traditional degrees.
Speaking earlier this month, Vanessa Wilson, chief executive of the University Alliance, which represents some universities that train nurses, was more positive about the idea of degree apprenticeships.
She said: “Degree apprenticeships are delivered by universities in partnership with the NHS, and they are a high-quality option for training highly-skilled medical professionals.
“This is not an ‘either-or’ situation where students will have to choose between developing high-level skills at university or studying an apprenticeship: degree apprenticeships do both.”
However, she said there were “challenges” to expanding NHS apprenticeships, including “excessive bureaucracy” and “complex regulation”.
Meanwhile, in a media briefing after her speech on Tuesday, Ms Cullen said she understood that the NHS workforce plan was due to be published by the end of May.