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Nursing programme clinches top award in battle to tackle ward shortages

A ground-breaking nursing degree apprenticeship scheme which sees candidates study for up to five years while learning on the job has clinched a top award.

The apprenticeship programme, which was developed by the University of Sunderland in partnership with NHS trusts across the North East, is aiming to help save millions of pounds by tackling nursing staff shortages in the region.

Sixty four apprenticeship nurses from five different NHS trusts started their training at the University in January this year.

Now the pioneering programme has picked up the top award at the annual Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust Excellence Awards.

Held at Newcastle civic centre, the evening’s chief executive award was handed to the Trust and University programme team. It is seen nationally as an innovative way to tackle national nurse staffing shortages, by training up talented healthcare support workers. For this particular Trust the specific benefit of this partnership has been in the recruitment of Learning Disability and Mental Health Registered Nurse Degree Apprentices.

Sheila McQueen, professor of nursing and continuous professional development at the University who led the apprenticeship development, and Jen Dent the new programme lead for the Nursing apprenticeships, told us that it was a huge surprise when the University’s name was read out.

Professor McQueen added: “Of course, everyone is absolutely delighted and we all celebrated in style.”

Trusts across the North East are delighted with the different approach taken to recruitment of Registered Nurses, which partly avoid the hefty costs of backfilling staff.

Professor McQueen and colleagues came up with the idea of this programme model to cut the cost of staff cover as well as giving candidates more time to complete their studies, and to earn whilst they learn and develop.

Participants in the University of Sunderland’s Nursing Degree Apprenticeship programme are already employed in a hospital and have at least two years’ experience working with patients.

The programme has given huge opportunities to build on the skills, knowledge and values of health care assistants, who may otherwise not have been in a position to study for a degree and become a nurse registrant.