The launch of a new nursing degree apprenticeship has been announced by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, with the aim of opening up the profession to more people.
The first apprentice nurses could be working on wards from September.
It is predicted by the government that once the programme is established, up to 1,000 apprentice nurses could join the NHS each year.
Aspiring nurses will start the apprenticeship at different stages, depending on their qualifications and experience, though the course will not require GCSE English and maths.
Before they start training, apprentices will have their numeracy and literacy skills assessed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council Approved Education Institution to ensure they meet a minimum of level two.
Their responsibilities will include assessing, planning, implementing and evaluating care and they will be expected to show “leadership qualities”.
The standard for a registered nurse was developed by a range of organisations including Barts Health NHS Trust, Ramsay UK Healthcare group and Hallmark Care Homes.
In a speech at the NHS Providers conference this morning, Mr Hunt said: “Nurses are the lifeblood of our NHS, but the routes to a nursing degree currently shut out some of the most caring, compassionate staff in our country.
“I want those who already work with patients to be able to move into the jobs they really want and I know for many, this means becoming a nurse.
“Not everyone wants to take time off to study full time at university so by creating hundreds of new apprentice nurses, we can help healthcare assistants and others reach their potential as a fully trained nurse.”
The apprenticeship could be a source of controversy, as apprentices will not have to pay for their training – unlike those who previously trained at university.
A new nursing associate role will also be introduced, and people who complete the nursing associate apprenticeship will be able to count it as training towards a nursing degree.
Nursing associates will work alongside healthcare support workers to deliver care, with the aim of freeing up existing nurses to focus on clinical duties and take a lead in the decisions round patients’ treatment.
The programme has attracted significant interest so far, leading Health Education England to expand the number of training places on the pilot scheme from 1,000 to 2,000.
Former health minister Ben Gummer published the original proposals for training nursing associates through the apprenticeship route on December 17, 2015, provoking outrage from some members of the medical sector.
There are currently around 20,000 apprentices working in the NHS, and earlier this year the government pledged to create a further 100,000 apprenticeships in the sector by 2020.
A range of roles are expected to be established, such as pharmacy services assistants and associate ambulance practitioners, as well as in areas including IT, hospitality and facilities.
Since May 2010, the NHS has employed over 11,900 more doctors and over 9,800 more nurses.
Photograph by Ben Birchall/PA Wire