Sunday 5 August 2018 / 8:15 AM Angela Rayner / NHS

NHS workforce in crisis under Tories as apprenticeship targets missed

Department for Education statistics have revealed that the total number of people starting apprenticeships in the NHS fell by more than a third (36%) between 2015/16 and 2017/18.

Buried in the figures were the embarrassing admissions that in the six months to January 2018 just 20 apprentices started the government’s flagship Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship, while there were just 10 nursing associate starts in the same period.

Nursing apprenticeships were announced by Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt in November 2016, with the Department for Health and Social Care predicting that 1,000 apprentice nurses could join the NHS each year, and Hunt later pledged an additional 12,500 nursing associate apprenticeships. 2,500 of these had been expected by April 2018 but answering a Parliamentary Question tabled by Angela Rayner, Ministers have now admitted that only 1,018 nursing associates had started by April 2018, meaning that they have missed their target by 1,482 places – nearly 60%.

The government has set a target of recruiting 100,000 NHS apprentices by 2020. Based on the recruitment level revealed in the latest data, this target will be missed by over 26,000 places.


Labour Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said:

“When they scrapped bursaries for nurses, the Tories claimed that apprentices would plug the staffing shortfall in our NHS. Now, just weeks later, they have admitted that far from increasing apprenticeships in the NHS, they have fallen by a third. No wonder they have refused to re-commit to their own nurse apprenticeship target after missing it by ninety seven per cent.

“We are now missing tens of thousands of nurses on hospital wards, applications have plummeted and patients are suffering the consequences. They are failing the people who deserve decent care and the people who deserve decent jobs.

“The next Labour government will restore the NHS Bursary and end the NHS pay cuts, tackling the nursing crisis and ensuring that patients get the care they need.”

In October 2017 the Department of Health and Social Care promised that nursing apprenticeships would “reduce the reliance on overseas recruitment by boosting the supply of home-grown nurses” and “allow us to expand our nurse workforce”.


Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:

“The Government’s workforce planning in the NHS has been a total shambles and now we see the full extent of their failure to recruit apprentice nurses. Once again a major staffing plan announced by Jeremy Hunt has fallen flat.

“Together with the disastrous decision to abolish NHS bursaries it’s clear to see that decisions taken by Tory health ministers in Whitehall are just making the staffing crisis even worse. 

“With 40,000 vacant posts in nursing the Government urgently need to come up with a long term plan to get the right number of staff in place and keep patients safe.”

Announcing the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship, Jeremy 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… 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”.

Following the decision to scrap student bursaries for nurses, the total number of students applying for nursing degrees fell by 18% in 2017 – the biggest fall in nursing applicants on record. The number of applications for the next academic year (2018-19) has fallen by a further 13%, meaning that applications have fallen by a third since 2016, before the decision to remove student bursaries for nurses.

The Royal College of Nursing has found that there are 42,000 vacancies across the NHS in nursing, with the staff recruitment crisis made more acute by low morale and poor staff retention.

The number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK fell by 96% in the year following the Brexit vote, from 1,304 to 46 and there has been a 28% rise in EU nurses leaving.An Open University study found that nursing shortfalls meant that the NHS spends at least £1.5bn a year on agency nurses and the total bill is likely to be around £2.4bn.

Last year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council announced that more nurses and midwives are leaving the profession in the UK than joining it, for the first time since 2008, with many of those leaving citing working conditions, staffing levels and workload as their reasons for quitting. A total of 35,363 nurses and midwives left the register in the twelve months to September 2017 with just 27,786 joining in the same period, equating to 27% more staff leaving than joining.