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Bosses at Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust began a nursing degree apprenticeship in 2019.

Initially, support work staff with at least 12 months’ experience of care in the trust could start a three or four-year journey to full nursing registration. It now offers a two-year scheme for existing nursing associates plus a five-year route for apprentices without experience.

It enrolled 163 apprentices to a programme leading to full Nursing and Midwifery Council registration.

The first 16 individuals have graduated with eight to follow next month. The programme is expected to produce 30 to 40 a year from 2023.

Staff nurse Michael Makoni was in the first wave. He said: “I was a nursing assistant for 12 years but I felt like I had reached a ceiling in terms of career progression. I wanted a career pathway… to have that balance between my financial commitments and my professional development. I felt I had more to offer.”

Jak Heatherington enrolled on a five-year apprenticeship in January after a three-month work experience placement.

He said: “I am in the first cohort of students recruited from outside the trust. I used to work at a desk job. Other people on the course with me have come from retail jobs.

“I wanted to go into a career in mental health because I’ve got personal experience of mental illness and wanted to give something back.”

Nazjabin Khanum was a nursing assistant before applying. She said: “I wouldn’t have become a nurse if it wasn’t for the apprenticeship. I had done another degree in the past, so I couldn’t have afforded to pay for the training.

“People who do this job are caring. We don’t do it for the money, although it’s really important nurses are recognised for what they do.”

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