Oxford Brookes University research reveals nurse cadet schemes can support recruitment

A hospital ward
A hospital ward

The first ever international study of nurse cadet schemes, carried out by academics at Oxford Brookes University, shows how these schemes support the Government’s 50,000 Nurses programme.

Launched in 2019, the programme aims to provide the NHS with 50,000 additional nurses by March 2024. Nurse cadet schemes give 16 to 18 year olds the chance to get real-life work experience and training while exploring the possibility of becoming nurses, or diversifying into other health related careers. Similar programmes are more mainstream in other countries - where they are known as initial vocational education and training rather than cadet schemes.  

The cadet schemes are one way of supporting the new NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which was released recently. The plan outlines how the NHS aims to ensure it has enough staff with the right skills to deliver the care people need. Among its recommendations are alternative routes into health professional roles, including nursing. 

Nurse cadet schemes can help address a global nursing shortage, which according to the International Council of Nurses (ICN), constitutes a global health emergency. An ICN report stated that the worldwide shortage of nurses was as high as 30.6 million in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic. This figure is thought to have risen as more and more nurses are leaving the profession globally. 

Professor Catherine Henshall is a Reader in Nursing at Oxford Brookes University and the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professional (NMAHP) Research Lead at the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust. Professor Henshall led a team from the Oxford Institute of Nursing and Health Research (OxINAHR), based at Oxford Brookes University, who conducted the study. 

The research was commissioned by Health Education England - a body that has now merged with NHS England. Now NHS England is responsible for the work of Health Education England - this includes planning, recruiting, educating and training the health workforce, ensuring that the healthcare workforce has the right numbers, skills, values and behaviours in place to support the delivery of healthcare in the UK. 

While nurse cadet schemes have been established for more than 30 years, internationally there were no pre-existing reviews or assessments examining which cadet models best prepared learners for a nursing career.

Dr Marion Waite, Principal Lecturer in the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery was one of the research team members. Dr Waite said: “We presented our findings and recommendations to the professionals who are involved in both classroom and clinical skills training on nurse cadet schemes. Our feedback has encouraged the staff involved with the schemes, and the NHS to keep the nurse cadet schemes growing. 

“This is great news as it’s a requirement now for all 16 to 18 year olds to remain in education or training. If they are not going to take a purely academic pathway, vocational routes like cadet schemes can help them decide what they want to do. They might end up working as a healthcare assistant and the scheme would give them academic equivalent qualifications to apply for a nursing programme.” 

Part of the research was a literature review looking at what has been written about 15 existing schemes in the UK, USA, Canada, Finland, Norway and Switzerland. 

Dr Waite said: “In other countries vocational training for young people is more mainstream than in the UK, where they are not known as cadet schemes but initial vocational education and training schemes. What is good news is the UK Government is starting to put more emphasis on T-levels which provide vocational training that is the equivalent to three A levels for people aged 16 to 19.  

“NHS Trusts across the UK are charged with looking at alternative recruitment pathways into healthcare roles. Nurse cadet schemes provide an important opportunity to grow a skilled nursing workforce for the future, but at the moment there is no systematic approach in the UK. We have two journal papers submitted for publication which will help influence and inform policymakers about the potential benefits of these schemes.”

The study recommended that sufficient time is allowed for new cadet schemes to embed and become sustainable. It suggested more work be invested in cadet training handbooks to reflect the curricula developed by nurse cadet programme providers. 

Claire Wardle, Programme Lead - NHS England – South East, said: “The findings of the study were very encouraging. They recognised the value of the nurse cadet role to our services and reinforced the opportunities this role brings to young people to enable them to access a career pathway to nursing and other health focused careers.

‘’It is also very positive that the trusts who were supporting this initiative will continue this valuable work to support our future nursing workforce and ensure it is embedded within their organisations.’’

Part of OxINAHR’s huge portfolio

The nurse cadet scheme evaluation findings are one of many projects making a crucial difference to an NHS which is  celebrating its 75th anniversary, under the umbrella of OxINAHR’s extensive and multidisciplinary research portfolio. 

This growing picture of work includes a study to improve the quality of life of people living with a cancer diagnosis, by identifying the psychological and social consequences of diagnosis and treatment. It helps cancer charities plan their strategies and inform supportive care services locally and nationally.

Another study with national and international influence looks at how exercise and physical activity is delivered to people with long-term neurological conditions. This has been translated into a UK wide ‘First Steps’ initiative delivered by Parkinson’s UK to help those who have just been diagnosed with the condition. 

Research into children missing healthcare appointments, which may suggest a child is at risk of neglect or abuse, is also part of OxINAHR’s portfolio. The research outcomes have included toolkits and policies to help health professionals follow up when children miss appointments.  

Professor Paul Carding, the Director of OxINAHR, said: “We are very proud of the world-class work that OxINAHR researchers are leading in many areas of health and social care fields. Our research is having a positive impact on the way we manage and provide health care, maximise NHS resources and improve the health of the nation.”