As hundreds of thousands of students across the country begin their higher education studies at universities and colleges, five people have started a nurse degree apprenticeship at Spire Washington Hospital.

The five apprentices, who will work out of the private hospital in Rickleton, Washington, are part of a group of 165 nurses who have been taken on by Spire Healthcare across the country, in one of the largest nurse degree apprenticeship programmes ever launched. The programme is designed to train healthcare leaders of the future, at a time when many nurses have left the profession following the pandemic, and there are skill shortages across all providers of healthcare.

The nurse degree apprenticeship is being run in partnership with the University of Sunderland and combines study and assessments with on-site placements to gain practical knowledge.

The apprenticeship lasts between two and five years, depending on the individual’s prior experience, and apprentices gain a BSc degree on completion. Uniquely for a healthcare apprenticeship, training is provided at a national, rather than regional level.

The programme is open to applicants at all stages of life, including school leavers, university graduates and people looking to retrain. Spire Healthcare’s new apprentices range in age between 18 and 58.

Sarah Heron, a new apprentice at Spire Washington, said: “I’ve been inspired by the amazing work that everyone in healthcare has done during the pandemic and this made me want to become a nurse myself.  I have had a fantastic welcome from everyone here at Spire Washington and am really looking forward to getting stuck in with my apprenticeship.”

Shelagh Alderson, Hospital Director at Spire Washington, said: “Here at Spire, we’re determined to play our part in training the clinicians of the future and we don’t know of any other healthcare provider that is investing so heavily in apprentices. We’re really excited that Sarah and the other apprentices have chosen to join us here at Spire Washington and I’m sure that they all have a bright future ahead of them.”

The appeal of apprenticeships has risen in recent years as an alternative to traditional university degree route, as a result of the increasing cost to students of going down the academic route.

Spire Washington Hospital is a 35-bed private hospital which has been operating from its Picktree Lane base since 1988, with patients from all over the North-East. Treatments offered include hip and knee replacements, breast enlargement, weight loss surgery, cosmetic surgery and a range of diagnostic procedures.