MORE than 100 students will begin the new Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship at Oxford Brookes this academic year, with the first cohort having already arrived in Oxford.

The new role was developed after a national review identified a gap in skills and knowledge between health and care assistants and registered nurses.

Senior lecturer and course leader for the Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship at Oxford Brookes University Caroline Hardy, said the new nursing associates would make a 'swift and concrete' difference to healthcare in Oxfordshire.

She added: “We are very excited to be part of a new development in nursing education.

"We have worked very closely with our healthcare partners to develop a robust and evidence based-apprenticeship."

However the new role has drawn criticism from health union representatives who have claimed the initiative amounts to a 'de-skilling' of front line services.

Speaking earlier this month, Oxfordshire Unison health branch spokesman Ian McKendrick said: “This won’t solve the national shortage of nurses, but if money is available to train nursing associates, why isn’t money being made available to fully train them to be a registered nurse?

"We believe this is about slashing the wage bill to try to get nurses on the cheap, which puts patients at risk."