End of BTECs ‘incredibly short-sighted’ could increase NHS vacancies, healthcare leaders warn

The Government has been warned by healthcare leaders that scrapping BTEC vocational qualifications could reduce the number of nurses.

Danny Mortimer, deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, has written to new Education Secretary James Cleverly to warn the NHS “cannot afford” to lose potential nurses because of a lack of training pathways.

In the letter, he said that while the Government plans to steer nursing students towards T-levels instead, these have higher entry requirements which many of those studying BTECs would not meet.

He added that 47% of those enrolled on BTECs are from “the most deprived areas in our communities”, and 47% have educational needs.

Mr Mortimer (pictured) said young people who undertook BTECs valued their flexibility and “modular approach”.

He added that 7,120 people on nursing degree training programmes had BTECs in health and social care, whilst in 2017, only 5,945 students starting a nursing degree had A-level qualifications.

He pointed out that T-levels are only open to 16 to 19-year-olds and require a 45-day work placement which the NHS and social care settings would be unable to provide. Not all clinical placements would be open to under-18s, he added.

“With over 105,000 vacancies in the NHS and 150,000 in social care, the sector can simply not afford to be losing the workforce of the future because of a lack of suitable training pathways,” he said.

“At the very least, the Department for Education needs to undertake an impact assessment specifically focused on the consequences of scrapping BTEC qualifications on the NHS and social care. In the meantime, the decision must be paused.”

Healthcare leaders fear ending the qualifications will exacerbate staffing shortages in the sector, with the BTEC in health and social care set to end by 2024, with the qualifications replaced by new T-level courses.

Mr Mortimer said the plans are “incredibly short-sighted”.

He added: “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, to grapple with trying to fill several thousand more vacancies every year in the years to come.”

Around 30,000 students are currently studying for health and social care related BTEC qualifications in England, of which approximately 14,700 are studying full-time.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is vital that qualifications meet the needs of employers and support more people into higher skilled, higher wage jobs.

“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.”

The Royal College of Nursing’s deputy director for nursing education, research and ethics, Nicola Ashby, 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.”

Dr Ashby added: “BTEC health and social care courses are a well-established route into nursing, with around a fifth of learners going on to do a nursing degree. They offer an opportunity for people from low-income backgrounds and mature students who might otherwise be denied it.

“In addition, without government-funded tuition fees for nursing degrees, access to higher education will be further undermined. We support the NHS Employers’ call for an urgent re-think.”

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