NHS to miss out on recruiting thousands of nurses if BTecs are scrapped | Education

The NHS will miss out on recruiting thousands of nurses every year as a direct result of the government scrapping BTec courses in health and social care, hospital bosses have warned.

NHS Employers wrote in a letter to the education secretary, James Cleverly, that it had “serious concerns” about the plan, which it fears will exacerbate the health service’s acute staffing problems.

BTecs are long-established qualifications that help young people get jobs as support workers in nursing, midwifery or allied health professions. Some of them later train to be a fully qualified nurse, midwife, radiographer or occupational therapist.

NHS Employers is particularly worried that abolishing BTECs in 2024 and 2025, as part of a move to new T-level qualifications in a shake-up of post-16 education, will damage the NHS in England’s efforts to recruit enough nurses to help fill the almost 40,000 vacancies it has for them.

Danny Mortimer, the organisation’s chief executive, told Cleverly in its letter that about a fifth of those studying for a nursing degree had done a health and social care BTec. In 2017, for example, 7,120 of those on a nursing course had already got that qualification – 20% of the total. That was more than the 5,947 who had embarked on a degree after doing A-levels. “This shows that the course provides an effective pathway to nurse training for a significant number of people,” he said.

In separate remarks, Mortimer said: “Abolishing these important BTec courses in health and social care is an incredibly shortsighted decision by the government.

“At a time when the NHS is already extremely short-staffed and carrying 105,000 vacancies, depriving the health service of a pipeline of fresh nursing, midwifery and other healthcare recruits is both reckless and ill-advised and could well leave the NHS, as well as our colleagues in social care, with several thousand more vacancies in the years ahead.”

More than 100 NHS organisations from across England believe ministers “should not be bringing the provision of this course, which nurtures and supports those with an interest in health and social care, to an end at this time”, the letter says.

About 30,000 people are currently undertaking a BTec in health and social care, of whom just under half are studying full-time.

The Royal College of Nursing urged Cleverly to have an “urgent rethink” of the plan. Its implementation was delayed after MPs and peers from different parties as well as college bosses criticised it.

Dr Nichola Ashby, the RCN’s deputy director for nursing education, research and ethics, said: “This is yet another example of the government making it harder, not easier, to get into nursing in England. There is a workforce crisis and every would-be nurse is needed for safe patient care.

“BTec health and social care courses … offer an opportunity for people from low income backgrounds and mature students who might otherwise be denied it.”

The Department for Education defended replacing BTecs with T Levels. “It is vital that qualifications meet the needs of employers and support more people into higher skilled, higher wage jobs,” a spokesperson said.

“Our health T- level has been co-created with employers, including the NHS, so that students gain the skills and experience needed to start roles within the health sector, and to progress on to university and further study. We will continue to fund BTecs and other qualifications in future where there is a clear need for them so young people have access to high quality options.”

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