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Funding of up to £172m for thousands more apprentice nurses in England has been unveiled by the government.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the money will allow healthcare employers to take on up to 2,000 nursing degree apprentices every year over the next four years.

It said this will help make the career more accessible.

The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the move but said the plans did not go far enough.

Nursing apprenticeships offer an alternative to full-time university courses, allowing people to earn a salary while their tuition costs are paid.

At the end of the programmes – which usually take four years – apprentices are able to qualify as fully registered nurses.

The government said its funding would enable more employers to meet the costs of taking on apprentices and help it deliver its target of 50,000 more nurses by 2024-25.

Both the NHS and other healthcare employers will receive £8,300 per placement per year for new and existing apprenticeships under the scheme.

It comes as the number of people looking for information on nursing on the NHS careers website rose by 138% between March and June, the DHSC said.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I’m thrilled to see a rising interest in nursing careers, but we must ensure this fantastic career is truly diverse and open to all.”

Gillian Keegan, apprenticeships and skills minister said: “Apprenticeships are an excellent way for anyone, regardless of their background, to kick start their career or to progress.”

However, Mike Adams, the Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, said wider investment was needed to educate enough registered nurses.

The union called on ministers to scrap tuition fees for nursing students who choose to train at university.

He added: “It is also the case that a full-time, three-year nursing degree remains the fastest way to deliver a registered nurse through education.”

NHS and social care employers currently train around 1,000 nurse apprentices every year.

Nurses were among thousands of NHS workers who took to the streets across the UK on Saturday to demand better wages for staff.

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