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School leavers could join NHS through apprenticeships to ease staff crisis

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The NHS is considering plans to address workforce shortages by offering on-the-job training to school leavers via apprenticeships.

The aim is to allow tens of thousands of doctors and nurses to join the health service over the coming years.

The NHS’s doctor apprenticeship scheme is set to start in September, offering medics in training the opportunity to earn money while they study.

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While the concept of medical apprenticeships was first introduced as an alternative route into medicine to circumvent standard undergraduate or graduate university programmes, concerns have been raised over whether the apprentice model will work on such a big scale.

Dr. Latifa Patel, workforce lead for the British Medical Association, welcomes innovative approaches to education and training.

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But she raised raises doubts over whether medical schools and employing organisations will be able to produce medical degree programmes to meet individual apprenticeship needs while meeting the same high standards of training experienced by traditional medical students.

She told The Guardian: “We don’t know if medical schools and employing organisations are going to be able to produce medical degree programmes to meet individual apprenticeship needs while also meeting the same high standards of training experienced by traditional medical students.

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“We have little evidence on whether the apprentice model will work at scale, and whether employers will want to take the investment risk with no guarantee of a return.

“Ultimately the solution the NHS needs is still the same: a dramatic increase in traditional medical school places, postgraduate training pathways, and essential medical academic staff, all fully resourced and without delay.”

Despite these concerns, Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive of NHS England, is encouraging school-leavers to “earn while they learn” through NHS apprenticeship schemes, citing the 124,000 vacancies across the workforce.

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She told the Guardian: "That is why with more than 124,000 vacancies across the workforce, we know we need to increase training places in universities so more of our brightest and best can train to become doctors or nurses,”

“But university isn’t right for every school-leaver and some young people want to start earning straight away, while others may decide on a career in healthcare later in life.

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“So the NHS is looking to expand apprenticeship schemes over the coming years, offering a different route into the NHS where students can earn while they learn, instead of going through the university route.

“This radical new approach could see tens of thousands of school-leavers becoming doctors and nurses, or other key healthcare roles, after being trained on the job over the next 25 years.”

The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, had promised that the NHS’s long-term workforce plan would be published “shortly”.

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