A pioneering cohort of nursing apprentices from a Cumbrian NHS trust have graduated to become registered nurses.

Additionally, the first nursing apprentices at the North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust are now registered as nursing associates.

There were 110 participants on the programme including nursing associates, those studying for registered nurse degrees, assistant practitioners and operating department practitioners.

So far 11 have received registered nurse degrees – 14 qualified as nursing associates and 21 as assistant practitioners.

It’s hoped graduation ceremonies will be held in the near future to recognise their achievements when coronavirus restrictions have eased.

Rachel Ferguson recently qualified as a nursing associate at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle.

Rachel said: “I have been well supported throughout my apprenticeship programme. That support continues despite very challenging times, enabling me to graduate in the midst of a global pandemic.”

She joined as a healthcare assistant in 2006 and was later put forward for the two-year Nursing Associate Apprenticeship.

Her manager, Carrie Wilson, sister on the Care of Elderly Ward, said: “Over the two-year programme Rachel has developed her knowledge, confidence and competency in all aspects of her role and is now undertaking further development as a registered nurse degree apprentice.

“The role of the nursing associate is of huge benefit to the patients and the skill mix of the ward team.

“Nursing associates provide high-quality care for a group of patients each shift, including direct patient care, administration of medicines, liaising with the multi-disciplinary team and undertaking skilled tasks. Nursing associates always have the support of a registered nurse whom they can refer to.”

Susan Clark, who’s worked at the trust for 24 years, was one of the first apprentice nurses who’s now qualified. She’s now working in the Emergency Admissions Unit at the West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven.

She started as a domestic, then a housekeeper and then qualified as a health care assistant.

Then she completed an apprenticeship and became an assistant practitioner in 2017 and completed her nursing apprenticeship in 2020.