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Online nursing degrees to be introduced by 2020

The new online nursing degree will be designed to make nursing training ‘more accessible’.



student in front of laptop

Health bosses have announced plans to develop an online undergraduate nursing degree.

As part if the NHS Long Term Plan, NHS England has announced plans to roll out a new online nursing degree which is designed to make nursing training ‘more accessible’.

In order to attract more mature students to the profession, the plan reveal the fees will be ‘substantially less’ than the £9,250 a year currently charged by universities on traditional degree pathways.


Although academic learning would take place online, the course will still offer students clinical placements within NHS organisations.

Plans reveal the online nursing degree should be in place by 2020 – depending on the speed of regulatory approval.

The announcement was included in the NHS Long Term Plan’s chapter on workforce development – details on the implementation of the new online nursing degree will be published later in a separate workforce implementation plan document.

Not a ‘magic bullet’.

Dame Donna Kinnair, Acting Chief Executive and General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, commenting on the NHS Long Term Plan, said: “We welcome the ambitions outlined in the plan, and it deserves to succeed. But translating good intentions into better treatment and care for patients relies on having the right number of nurses with the right skills across our NHS.”

“As the Prime Minister said in her speech today, the NHS’s biggest asset is its staff. It is strange then that this plan offers no money for nurses to develop the specialisms and skills patients need. And it is equally concerning that online courses are presented as a magic bullet to solve the workforce crisis.

“Nursing degrees demand both academic and practical skills which student nurses learn from contact with professionals and peers, a model not easily replicated online, even with clinical placements. Nursing is career like no other, and it takes the right values and ambition to succeed. Entry standards are rigorous because they have to be – it is what safe patient care demands.”

Jonathan Ashworth, shadow Health Secretary, said; “we know the NHS is facing a staffing crisis with desperate shortages for over 40,000 nurses and midwives. As well as supporting the  current workforce nether with professional development we need to do more to help train nurses, midwives and allied health professionals for the future which is why Labour will bring back the bursary. It’s hugely disappointing the Long Term Plan doesn’t restore it.”

‘Careful implementation’.

The Council of Deans, the body that represents university nursing and midwifery faculties, expressed also expressed concerns over the plans.

Brian Webster-Henderson, Council of Deans of Health Chair, said: “We need to see further details on this. Nursing is a high cost subject and is unlikely to be much cheaper when accessed online so the Government would need to subsidise this route.

Adding; “I am concerned that without careful implementation this option could undermine the important local relationships between employers and universities.”

A spokesperson for the Nursing and Midwifery Council said: “We’re committed to supporting new and innovative ways of teaching and learning that give students the knowledge and skills they need to meet our standards, alongside a rich learning experience.

“While models of flexible and blended learning for nursing already exist, we look forward to exploring the possibility of new developments for nursing degrees with the government and Education institutions as well as our partners across the health and care sector in the coming months.”


£200 million NHS training budget could be lost to the private sector

Around a third of NHS trusts are paying apprentices just £3.90 per hour – the statutory minimum rate.



NHS hospital corridor

Money paid by NHS trusts is now being “clawed back by the government”.

More than £200m is lying unused by cash-strapped health trusts in England because of restrictions in the Government’s apprenticeship levy scheme.

The restrictions mean that money from the levy can only be used to fund training costs and not salaries – meaning already cash-strapped organisations are unable to recruit additional staff.


Around a third of NHS trusts are paying apprentices just £3.90 per hour – the statutory minimum rate.

According to the UNISON report, It Doesn’t Add Up, 79% of the levy money is yet to be used and warns that if this trend continues substantial NHS funding will be lost.

Levy money not spent after two years is reallocated to a central Government pot and used to subsidise apprenticeships for smaller employers – who don’t have to pay into the levy. This means cash from NHS budgets being diverted into the private sector.

Millions sat idle while there are 100,000 vacancies.

UNISON is now calling for the Government to change the rules so levy funding can also be spent on apprentice salaries and the wages of staff employed to cover for apprentices when they are training.

They have also suggested that the money could be used to fund a new extensive apprenticeship programme across the entire NHS for nursing and all the other health professions experiencing shortages.

Sara Gorton, Head of Health at UNISON, said; “Hundreds of millions of pounds are sitting idle at a time when budgets are stretched and there are 100,000 vacancies across the NHS,”.

“There are real concerns about the standard of training apprentices receive, with many carrying out administrative and clinical support roles for peanuts. Ministers must reform the system to ensure money allocated to the health service stays within the NHS and invest properly to ensure apprenticeships play a full role in solving the growing staffing crisis.”

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One in six nursing associates drop out before qualifying, finds report

Despite this trainees showed “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”.



Group of nurses in meeting

Only 65% of trainee nursing associates said they planned to work as a nursing associate once qualified.

An independent evaluation of the nursing associate role commissioned by Health Education England (HEE) has found that while there are “high levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the programme”, one in six nursing associates are dropping out before completing the course.

Attrition rates for trainee nursing associates fell slightly below that of student nurses, with 18% leaving before completing the course.


While ill health and personal issues were some of the most common reasons for leaving the programme, nearly a quarter (23%) withdrew because they failed to meet the academic requirements of the programme – with numeracy skills cited as a key issue.

One trainee said they found the “attitudes towards the role and the negative feedback about Nursing Associates” challenging.

Only 65% of trainees said they intend to continue working as a nursing associate once qualified as the programme is often seen as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nursing.

Highlighting challenges.

Mark Radford, Chief Nursing Officer, Health Education England said the report “highlights some challenges that we must address to ensure that students such as ensuring the quality and oversight of placements, attrition and numeracy support.”

“We also recognise that further work and research is required to ensure that the profession is supported and utilised in the workforce of health and social care as part of the MDT. I am pleased to be able to report that we are in the process of identifying candidates to be considered as NA ambassadors across England.

Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Executive and Registrar for the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “Having had the pleasure of meeting many nursing associates across the country, I am continually inspired by their enthusiasm and dedication for providing care and they should be very proud of the difference they make for the people they support.”

“I look forward to seeing how nursing associates continue to develop and be supported in their work, long into the future.”

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