• Northumberland, Tyne and Wear FT approves plans to set up nursing academy
  • Aims to train up to 20 new nurses a year through degree level apprenticeships using apprenticeship levy
  • The project is a partnership with Sunderland University

An outstanding rated trust has approved plans to set up a nursing academy to train up to 20 new mental health nurses a year.

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear Foundation Trust approved the business case for the academy earlier this year in partnership with Sunderland University.

It will see up to 20 staff take up degree level mental health and learning disability nursing apprenticeship courses at the university each year.

The total annual tuition fees of £200,000 will be paid through the trust’s apprenticeship levy of £1m a year, but it will continue paying staff’s wages from its own budget.

The apprenticeship levy was introduced in April 2017 and mandates organisations to pay a set rate into a ringfenced pot each year, then draw out the cash to pay for apprenticeship training schemes.

The first intake of students is expected in January 2019, if the Nursing and Midwifery Council grants Sunderland University accreditation to run the course.

Each graduate will be expected to sign up to three years with NTW under a study bond.

In the business case presented to NTW’s board in February, deputy director for academy development Gail Bayes said the programme will address several long term workforce concerns for the trust.

These include offsetting the 110 nurses a year expected to retire over the next five years, the drop in commissioned places for nurse training and any fall in applicants due to the scrapping of the bursary.

The business case estimates by 2020-21 the academy alongside current traditionally funded degree nurses will create a breakeven point against the number of nurses expected to leave the trust.

The plan also predicts the trust will be able to use the levy to fund staff to sit other apprenticeships, including nursing associate roles and higher qualifications.

Ms Bayes added: “The proposal will significantly contribute to reducing this risk by producing a small number of additional registered nurses and also expanding the skills set of unregistered nurses to increase our supply of nursing associate posts.”

Workforce is a major national concern in the mental health sector, with the government pledging an additional 21,000 new posts by 2020-21 in July last year.

However, the mental health workforce strategy admitted the sector faced 20,000 existing vacancies and psychiatric nurse numbers dropped by 11 per cent from May 2010 to October 2017.

The degree level apprenticeship will see students spend 50 per cent of their time in the workplace, compared to degree students who spend none. NTW estimates this will save around £280,000 over three years compared to full-time study release, which will have a direct impact on its use of bank and agency staff.

NTW has approved the investment of nearly £625,000 in the project up to 2020-21. The rest of the £2.5m costs are expected to be paid through non-medical education and training funding.

Sunderland University was one of five areas to successfully bid to set up a new medical school, which will be focusing on GP and psychiatric training.

The trust is also in discussions with other education providers about expanding the partnership.