News that the Department of Health and Social Care is providing £172 million for thousands more apprentice nurses in England has attracted comment from interested parties.

Unison’s deputy head of health Helga Pile said: “This investment is a step in the right direction. The NHS is losing tens of thousands of nurses every year and properly funded apprenticeships can help attract new recruits. They can also open up career pathways for existing NHS staff. 

“However, the government must go further. This opportunity to earn while you learn should be extended to other professions where shortages exist. The apprenticeship levy needs reforming. Many trusts are unable to spend the cash because they’re too hard up to cover all the costs of taking on apprentices. The cash then ends up lost to the NHS.   

“A fair and consistent wage is also essential. Unless this is sorted urgently, the NHS will struggle to attract apprentices in the first place.”   

Sally Warren, director of policy at The King’s Fund, also weighed into the debate saying: “Action to recruit more nurses is necessary and welcome, and apprenticeships are a good model for attracting more people to the profession. Yet, despite today’s announcement being a positive step, it alone will not solve chronic staff shortages in health and care services.

“Even before the pandemic, the health and care workforce was in a state of crisis, with high levels of work-related stress, reports of overworked staff looking to leave their jobs, and a shortage of around 40,000 nurses. It’s been 18 months since an NHS workforce strategy was promised, but so far we have only seen piecemeal announcements that do not add up to a comprehensive plan. Delays to government spending decisions have left the health service without the long-term investment and concrete commitments needed to recruit the doctors, nurses and other staff needed to address workforce shortages.

“Today’s announcement also leaves some unanswered questions for social care, a sector that went into the Covid-19 pandemic grappling with over 120,000 vacancies. Health and social care services work closely together and in the absence of comparable action to recruit and retain more social care staff, there is a risk that the NHS recruitment drive will inadvertently exacerbate workforce shortages in social care.”

Date published: August 10, 2020

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