Student doctors and nurses told to skip university to help solve the NHS staffing crisis

School-leavers have been urged to skip university and receive their licence via apprenticeships instead in order to help solve the NHS staff shortage

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Tens of thousands of future nurses and doctors have been urged to receive their training via apprenticeships in a major move to help solve the NHS staffing crisis. School-leavers have been urged to gain their training via “earn while they learn” schemes, rather than taking the traditional route of getting a university degree, the Independent reports.

Chief executive of NHS England, Amanda Pritchard, has suggested the more unconventional route as part of a radical new plan to support the NHS set to be revealed by the government in the next few days. The plan suggests that one in 10 doctors and one in three nurses could qualify this way - a fivefold increase from the NHS original plans of 200 medical apprenticeships.

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But the plan has received criticism from the British Medical Association (BMA) who fear NHS staff trained via apprenticeships would not be able to receive the same high standard of training from employers as medical students at universities. Experts have also raised concerns that it would not be able to provide enough experienced staff to deliver the on-the-job training.

Rishi Sunak has recently said he won't repeat the Conservative pledge made in 2019 to provide 6,000 extra GPs by 2024, and while continuing junior doctor strikes over pay and conditions cripples the health service. In addition to the ongoing crisis, the Royal College of Nursing has announced it will ballot its members on further strike action.

Amandra Pritchard spoke to students at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School in Durham on Friday (May 5), saying: “The NHS is looking to expand apprenticeship schemes over the coming years, offering a different route into the NHS, where students can earn while they learn instead of going through the university route.

“This radical new approach could see tens of thousands of school-leavers becoming doctors and nurses, or [working in] other key healthcare roles after being trained on the job, over the next 25 years.”

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Responding to the government plans, workforce lead for the BMA, Dr Latifa Patel, expressed her concerns saying there are “huge questions” on how doctors and nurses trained via apprenticeships would be able to solve the crisis and how it would offer the same high standard of training current medical students receive. She said: “We have little evidence on whether the apprentice model will work at scale, and whether employers will want to take the investment risk with no guarantee of a return.

“And apprenticeships may also slow our training capacity in the short term, given the supervision requirements: the medical training pipeline is already stretched to its limits, with lecture halls at capacity, limited numbers of clinical placements, and falling numbers of medical academic staff. Where are the extra resources going to come from?”

New plans would allow more doctors and nurses to receive their training "on the job" rather than via the traditional university route.New plans would allow more doctors and nurses to receive their training "on the job" rather than via the traditional university route.
New plans would allow more doctors and nurses to receive their training "on the job" rather than via the traditional university route.

Danny Mortimer, NHS Employers’ chief executive, said there was a “real” appetite in the health service to increase the use of apprenticeship schemes, but that the levy scheme would need reforms to support the extra costs employers would face. According to guidance by Health Education England (HEE), the NHS education and training body, employers would receive £27,000 per apprentice taken on but would need to cover any additional themselves.