Aim. The aim of this paper is to report a study investigating the extent to which National Health Service cadet schemes widen access to professional health care education.
Background. Cadet schemes have been reintroduced in the United Kingdom to increase recruitment of nurses and other health care staff to the National Health Service and also to widen access and increase participation in professional health care education by groups poorly represented in such education, including minority ethnic groups.
Methods. A questionnaire survey of all cadet schemes (n = 62) in England at the time of the study was carried out, and the respondents were cadet scheme leaders (n = 62) and cadet students (n = 411). The questionnaires to scheme leaders enquired about when the schemes were established, what the schemes were preparing cadets for, modes of delivery and entry qualifications. The questionnaires to cadets enquired about age, gender, family circumstances, prior experience and ethnic background.
Findings. The majority of schemes had been established since the health service reforms of 1999 and most were preparing cadets to enter professional nurse education programmes. Very few provided opportunities for part-time study and some asked for entry qualifications. Cadets were younger on entry than a comparator group of student nurses, fewer were married, fewer had previous employment or health-related employment and a lower percentage of cadets were white.
Conclusion. Cadet schemes have the potential to widen access to professional health care study, but there is only limited evidence that they are doing so. In particular there was a lack of mature entrants to health care professional education via the schemes. However, the majority of schemes offered a route into professional education for students who did not hold sufficient educational qualifications for direct entry to professional health care education. It is encouraging that cadet schemes appear to be attracting a significantly greater proportion of students from Black and minority ethnic groups than preregistration nursing programmes overall.