A radical shake-up of nursing education is promising to encourage more people into the profession and improve levels of care.
The moves, which have been broadly welcomed by academics and health organisations, include making courses more flexible, standardising training across the country and ensuring students get patient contact and practical experience very early in their courses.
But they do not address efforts to give nursing students more small-group tuition, the lack of which has been blamed for high drop-out levels in some places.
Alan Milburn, secretary of state for health, announced the changes at a joint conference between the NHS executive and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals at King's College Hospital, London, on Monday.
"We must ensure our education and training programmes are capturing leading-edge practice and are adapting to the needs of the new NHS, where professional roles are fast changing," he said.
He said nurses would be able to use previous learning and experience to count towards their education.
Mr Milburn will also create an education and training unit to oversee the programme as well as looking to set up a partners council to include universities.
Sixteen NHS consortia/university partnerships will take the new model of nurse education forward, beginning in September 2000.