Millions of pounds could be invested in the training and development of lower paid NHS staff to help them progress into nursing and other professional roles, HSJ has learned.

Health Education England is considering boosting the proportion of the £5bn education and training budget it spends on the lowest paid NHS staff by 1 per cent a year for five years,  papers seen by HSJ reveal.

The education and training body is also developing proposals for a national strategy for the 470,000 staff in bands 1-4 of the Agenda for Change pay framework.

This includes approximately 271,000 healthcare assistants and 126,000 support staff such as porters and administration workers.

The proposals could also boost the number of apprenticeships and include the creation of “skills escalators” for all staff in bands one to four. It would allow some to access graduate programmes, leading to more joining professionally regulated roles.

Bands 1-4 staff make up about 40 per cent of the NHS’s 1.4 million workforce, and are responsible for an estimated 60 per cent of direct patient contact.

A document linked to the project, seen by HSJ, said: “As part of our development of this strategy we would set an aim to increase the proportion of funding available for education and training for staff in posts banded one to four. Realistically, this could be set at 1 per cent growth each year for five years.”

HEE refused to say how much this would mean in cash terms describing it as a “broad indication” of what might be suggested.

Encouraging more staff from bands -14 into nursing is being seen as one way to help tackle a looming retirement bulge in nursing. A labour market review by the Royal College of Nursing in 2010 predicted 200,000 nurses could retire by 2020.

Howard Catton, head of policy at the RCN, said: “We would absolutely recognise there is a need for investment in bands 1-4.

“However the 1 per cent is news to me and it does raise some really important questions over the detail. I can’t see how there would not be consequences for other [workforce] groups.”

Stephen Welfare, lead director for bands 1-4 programme, said no decisions had yet been made.

News of the increased investment comes as HEE and the Nursing and Midwifery Council announced a major review of nurse training in England.

This review will be launched next month to investigate the education standards of the 60,000 annual intake of nursing and midwifery students.

The Shape of Caring review, which will be led by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Willis of Knaresborough, will also examine the standard of post-registration training for NHS nurses, which applies once they have qualified and joined the NMC register.

About 390,000 registered nurses are employed in the NHS in England.