More than 5,000 additional places on nursing training courses are to be created next year as part of government efforts to boost the NHS workforce in England.

Announcing what he said was a 25 per cent total rise, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said more current NHS staff would be able to retrain as nurses through a four-year apprenticeship at local hospitals.

A number of institutions, including Derby, Wolverhampton and Coventry universities, had offered to run the  part-time courses which he said would operate to high standards demanded by the regulator.

Mr Hunt addressed the Conservative Party conference in Manchester telling them that the UK needed ‘the skills and compassion’ of nurses.

“The NHS will be looking after a million more over 75’s in just a decade, so we need to jump-start nurse training.

“This represents the biggest increase in nurse training places in the history of the NHS.

 “And we will make sure that many of the additional places go to healthcare assistants training on hospital sites, allowing us to expand our nurse workforce with some highly experienced people already working on the NHS frontline.

“We will also improve retention rates amongst our current workforce with new flexible working arrangements to be made available to all NHS staff, and a new right of first refusal for affordable housing built on NHS property.

“Combined with the 25 per cent increase in medical school places announced last year, this will transform the ability of our NHS to cope with the pressures ahead.”

Hunt also said all existing NHS staff would be offered new working arrangements, including the opportunity to work more flexible hours and work additional shifts at short notice, have more control over pension contributions and the chance to purchase more affordable homes.

He also said that greater support would be given to existing nurses with family and caring responsibilities.

Hunt said the move was designed to reduce reliance on agency nurses and recruits from overseas.

He offered assurances to the 150,000 EU workers in health and social care that he was “confident” their status would not change post Brexit.

Addressing EU workers, Mr Hunt said:

“You do a fantastic job, we want you to stay, and we’re confident you will be able to stay with the same rights you have now, so you can continue being a highly valued part of our NHS and social care family.”

As well as increasing the number of places on full-time university courses, by 2019 the Government will fund training each year for an extra 5,500 “nursing associates” who support fully Registered Nurses.

The new measures mean the number of undergraduate nursing places will increase to 25,850 in 2018/19 – up 15,000 from 2015.

There will also be an expansion of return-to-work initiatives for qualified nurses who have taken career breaks.

Commenting on the announcement, David Willett, Corporate Director at The Open University said:

‘’This is a very significant boost in training places, and the introduction of more nursing degree apprenticeships can only be a good thing with Brexit potentially threatening our supply of nurses. It is vital for the UK that the NHS is able to attract and retain enthusiastic and ambitious home grown staff and this will undoubtedly help. Nurses play a crucial role within the organisation, so they need to be given opportunities to thrive and learn new skills while on-the-job – something that will also help retention.”