Nursing and healthcare pay 2021; salary predictions for nursing students

With opportunities for further training and progression, you can achieve a generous salary in nursing and healthcare, alongside a rewarding career.

Last updated: 21st December 2020

Content updated to show predicted nursing pay rates for 2021

With a growing demand for nurses, the Government is working to increase nursing numbers in the NHS by 50,000 in the next 5 years. ( August 2020)

Traditional routes into nursing involved studying at university for a four-year degree, but this is now just one of many options in starting your nursing career. Nursing has become much more accessible to people from all different walks of life, and if you are looking for a career change, there has never been a better time.

salaries for nursing graph

Healthcare salary - Information retrieved from National Careers Service August 2020

Applications to study nursing in the UK are on the rise, with a 6% increase compared with the last academic year, latest official figures reveal. Data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) released showed that 45,430 people had applied to a nurse degree by the 2020 January deadline. (NursingTimes August 2020)

We have put together a helpful guide on the different ways to get into nursing and healthcare, and how you can begin a rewarding career.

1. Healthcare assistants (HCAs) and assistant practitioners (APs) role and pay

There are no specific national requirements for becoming an HCA. You simply need to be passionate about working with people and be caring and compassionate to apply for a job as one. Although it’s advised to get some work experience first, so you know what it is like to work in healthcare before you take the plunge. Once you have been accepted, your employer will provide the training you need.

2021 salary expectations for healthcare assistants

For a healthcare assistant, you can expect a starting salary of £18,005 a year rising to £24,907 a year once more experienced.

Further training and career progression

With training, you could become an assistant practitioner in chiropody or podiatry, occupational therapy, radiography or train to work in physiotherapy.

Assistant practitioners are a growing part of the healthcare workforce. Sometimes known as associate practitioners, they take on more responsibilities than Healthcare Assistants, under the delegation of registered colleagues in a range of different settings.

As an assistant practitioner, you could also apply to train as a nurse, radiographer, dietitian, midwife or social worker.

2. Nursing associate role and pay

The role of nursing associate sits alongside existing nursing care support workers and fully qualified registered nurses in both health and social care.

nursing associate job role image

A nursing associate will be trained and able to perform more complex and significant tasks than a healthcare assistant but will not have the same full scope of practice as a graduate registered nurse.

Nursing associates can carry out some of the tasks currently performed by graduate registered nurses, but they will not be a substitute for graduate registered nurses. The introduction of nursing associates should free up registered nurses’ time so they can concentrate on more complex tasks.

It opens up a career in nursing to people from all backgrounds and offers the opportunity to carry out further training to become a registered nurse. Trainee roles are often available in a variety of health and care settings. This means that nursing associates have wider opportunities and more flexibility to move between acute, social and community and primary care.

2021 salary expectations for nursing associates

For a nursing associate, you can expect a starting salary of  £18,005 a year rising to £24,157 a year once more experienced.

Further training and career progression

A nursing associate will work and study towards a level 5 qualification. Qualified nursing associates will be required to work to a nationally recognised code of conduct. A nursing associate is not a registered nurse, but with further training, it can be possible to 'top-up' your training to become one.  You can train to become a registered nurse by completing a shortened nursing degree or a nursing degree apprenticeship.

3. Nursing degree apprenticeships role and pay

Nursing apprenticeships have been developed to boost existing healthcare support workers (HCSWs) and Assistant Practitioners into nursing roles.

Nursing degree apprenticeships offer flexible routes to becoming a nurse that does not require full-time study at university, although nursing degree apprentices will still need to undertake academic study at degree level and meet the standards set out by the NMC.

You will need to secure a position as a nursing degree apprentice and your employer will then release you to study at university on a part-time basis. You will train in a range of practice placement settings. 

Most nursing degree apprenticeships will take four years. If you already have prior learning and experience, you may get some recognition of this through APEL and so the nursing degree apprenticeship may take you less than four years to complete.

Offered as a Level 6-degree apprenticeship, you'll obtain a bachelor’s degree and full Registered Nurse status on completion of a nursing apprenticeship.

Not only will your tuition fees be covered, but you'll also be treated as an employee and paid a wage for the duration of your course.

2021 salary expectations for apprentice nurses

The current minimum wage rate for an apprentice is £4.15 per hour.

Further training and career progression

You can train to become a fully qualified registered nurse by completing the nursing degree apprenticeship. Once you have gained more experience, you can carry out further training to specialise in a specific area of nursing.

4. Graduate entry nursing role and pay

If you already have an undergraduate degree, this two-year course could give you the skills and knowledge needed for a modern nursing career. Previous experience in a healthcare setting and a minimum of a 2:2 degree is required for entry, although a 2:1 is preferred.

You will be prepared to work within the NHS, private healthcare or within the voluntary and independent sector. You may also choose to pursue a career in teaching, research or management.

2021 salary expectations for a graduate nurse

You can expect to start at £24,907 rising to £37,890 when more experienced.

5. Full-time nursing degree role and pay

You can complete a four-year nursing degree at University to become a fully qualified nurse. You must also be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You will need to choose which of the four nursing specialisms (adult, children, mental health, or learning disability) you’d like to study. Nursing requires a high level of technical competence and clinical decision-making skills. To develop these, you'll spend half of your nursing degree on supervised placements in local hospital and community settings.[4]

student nurse bursary

Information retrieved from August 2020

2021 salary expectations for a qualified nurse

Once fully qualified, you can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £37,890 when more experienced.

NHS Pay Bands for 2021 explained

You will often see the salary for various nursing roles explained in bands. The pay band you are put on to depends on how many years’ experience you have and at what level in nursing you are at. For example, a newly qualified nurse will start on band 5, which is £24,907 a year and will go up in increments for years of service and/or experience they have achieved.[5]

nhs nursing pay bands table

NHS Pay Scales - Information retrieved from NHS Employers August 2020

6. Roles in nursing

When you start your journey into nursing, you will be required to go into one of four specialisms. Adult nursing, children’s nursing, mental health nurse, or learning disability nursing. When you first go out on placement, you’ll often find you’ll get to experience a wide range of settings, which will give you a good indicator into which area of nursing you prefer.

Adult nurse role and pay

From the start of your training and into your first job, you will learn how to observe patients and assess their needs. You’ll learn to plan and deliver the most appropriate care for them, and evaluate the results.

Your nursing career will mean working with adults of all ages. They may suffer from one or more long or short-term physical health conditions. This could include heart disease, injuries from an accident, pneumonia, arthritis, diabetes or cancer.

Building a trusting relationship with each patient is essential. You aim to improve your patients’ quality of life, whatever their situation. You’ll need to take lots of factors into account and juggle many priorities to get the best possible results for your patients.

You aim to improve your patients’ quality of life, whatever their situation.

Where will I work as an adult nurse?

You might be working in:

  • hospital wards, outpatient units or specialist departments
  • the community eg patient’s home, a clinic, GP surgery, walk-in centres or nursing homes.
  • the prison service
  • the police
  • the voluntary or private sector

Adult nurses are a key part of the multidisciplinary teams that look after patients. You will be at the centre of teams that can include occupational therapists, pharmacists, radiographers and healthcare assistants. You will also work closely with patients' families and carers.

Children's nurse role and pay

Nursing a child is not just a question of caring for a small adult. Children have very specific health needs and you need to understand how a healthy child develops towards adulthood to minimise the impact of illness. This involves working in closely with the parents or guardians.

Communication is also a factor when treating children. Adults can express their feelings and can identify the severity and nature of pain. A child may not be able to communicate this in such detail and the nurse needs to interpret the child’s behaviour and reactions. Children's nurses need to be able to spot when a child's health takes a turn for the worse, which can often happen rapidly.

Where will I work as a children's nurse?

A child’s care can take place in a range of settings:

  • hospitals
  • daycare centres
  • child health clinics
  • child's home

Across all fields of nursing, more care is being delivered in the community.

Children's nurses are part of multidisciplinary teams that look after patients. You will be at the centre of teams that include doctors, hospital play staff, healthcare assistants, newborn hearing screeners, psychologists and social workers.

2021 salary expectations for a children's nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £37,890 when more experienced.

Mental health nurse role and pay

Your role will be to build effective relationships with people who use your services, and also with their relatives and carers. You might help one person to take their medication correctly while advising another about relevant therapies or social activities.

mental health nurse role image

Success comes from being able to establish trusting relationships quickly, to help individuals understand their situation and get the best possible outcome. You will be trained about the legal context of your work and be able to identify whether and when someone may be at risk of harming themselves or someone else.

Helping people back to mental health is every bit as valuable and satisfying as caring for those with a physical illness.

Where will you work as a mental health nurse?

Mental health nurses are usually based in hospitals or the community, as this is where most of the mental healthcare is offered. If you work in a residential setting, you may do shifts and provide 24-hour care.

Within a hospital you might work in a: 

  • psychiatric intensive care unit
  • psychiatric ward
  • outpatients unit
  • specialist unit dealing with eating disorders.

In the community you could work at a:

  • GP surgery
  • prison
  • community health care centre
  • residential centre
  • patients’ own homes.

You would work as part of a team which includes general practitioners, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, arts therapists and healthcare assistants.

2021 salary expectations for a mental health nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £44,503 when more experienced.

Learning disability nurse role and pay

Children identified as having a learning disability are living longer, more fulfilled lives into adolescence, adulthood and older age. Learning disability nurses play a vital role in working across the whole life span in both health and care settings.

The main areas of your role as a learning disability nurse involve:

  • improving or maintaining a person’s physical and mental health
  • reducing barriers to them living an independent life
  • supporting the person in living a fulfilling life

Learning disability nurses may also help people to learn the skills needed to find work. This can be significant in helping them to lead a more independent and healthy life where they can relate to others on equal terms.

Where will you work as a learning disability nurse?

You will be supporting people of all ages with learning disabilities in a range of settings, including:

  • people's homes
  • education
  • workplaces
  • residential and community centres
  • hospitals
  • mental health settings
  • prisons

You may work shifts to provide 24-hour care. You’ll work as part of a team including GPs, psychologists, social workers, teachers, general practitioners, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and healthcare assistants.

2021 salary expectations for learning disability nurses

You can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £37,890 when more experienced.

Career progression

With experience in nursing, you could then go onto specialise in a field such as intensive care or operating theatre work or become a nursing sister, ward manager or team leader.

You could train as a midwife, neonatal nurse, health visitor, or district or practice nurse. You could also move into management, as a matron or director of nursing.

With a postgraduate qualification, you could become an advanced nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist, then a nurse consultant. There are opportunities to go into teaching and research.

7. Nursing specialisms

Once you have gained more experience in your nursing role, you can then go onto to further training to work in specialist areas.

District nurse role and pay

District nurses make a difference every day to the lives of the people they visit at home and in residential care homes. They provide increasingly complex care for patients and support for family members.

Your patients could be any age, but they will often be elderly, while others may have been recently discharged from hospital, be terminally ill or have physical disabilities.

You will be visiting patients every day or more than once a day, offering help, advice and support. You may work on your own or with other groups, such as social services, voluntary agencies and other NHS organisations and help to provide and co-ordinate a wide range of care services.

As well as providing direct patient care, you will have a teaching and support role, working with patients to enable them to care for themselves or with family members teaching them how to give care to their relatives. You will also be accountable for your patient caseloads.

You will play a vital role in keeping hospital admissions and re-admissions to a minimum and ensuring that patients can return to their own homes as soon as possible.

2021 salary expectations for a district nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £31,365 rising to £44,503 when more experienced.

General practice nurse role and pay

Nurses are an important part of delivering care in general practice. An increasing shift of care from hospitals to general practice provides nurses with an exciting career choice.

General practice nurses work in GP surgeries as part of the primary healthcare team, which might include doctors, pharmacists and dietitians. In larger practices, you might be one of several practice nurses sharing duties and responsibilities. In others, you might be working on your own, taking on many roles.

2021 salary expectations for a general practice nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £44,503 when more experienced.

Neonatal nurse role and pay

Neonatal nurses care for newborn babies who are born premature or sick. A newborn baby can suffer from a range of conditions requiring treatment.

Premature babies have specific problems such as respiratory difficulties or nutritional needs that can be life-threatening. You will be a crucial part of the team that ensures that treatment is given promptly and appropriately by a team.

2021 salary expectations for a neonatal nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £44,503 when more experienced. 

Prison nurse role and pay

Nurses working in prisons provide similar services to those who work in a GP practice, as well as integrated mental health and substance misuse services.

You will work in a unique and diverse environment, often delivering many of the nurse-led services that are provided in the wider community. Prison nurses provide holistic care across the whole patient journey.

Working in a challenging, multi-faceted environment like a prison, you will deliver holistic and compassionate care to a complex community with varying needs. The role offers versatility as you will pick up additional skills to develop your knowledge and skills base.

Within prisons, there is a higher prevalence of mental health and substance misuse disorders. This may mean offering support to patients who are at greater risk to themselves or others than those seen in GP practices.

2021 salary expectations for a prison nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £27,761 rising to £64,350 when more experienced.

Theatre nurse role and pay

Theatre nurses work with patients of all ages and are involved in each phase of a person’s operation. 

Perioperative care can be divided into four phases:

•    Preoperative (pre-assessment)

•    anaesthetics

•    surgical phase

•    recovery phase

Theatre nurses can also specialise in a specific area such of perioperative care or rotate through the areas. Rotation is more likely to happen in day surgery.

theatre nurse job role image

Where will I work as a theatre nurse?

You will work primarily within hospital operating theatres and anaesthetic/recovery areas. You may also be involved with procedures on wards, clinics or in other specialist areas such as cardiac catheterisation units. You will work as part of a large team that will include surgeons, anaesthetists, operating department practitioner (ODPs), theatre support workers and porters.

You may also work with healthcare scientists such as audiologists or cardiac physiologists when fitting cochlear implants or pacemakers.

Entry requirements

You will need to be a registered adult, child, mental health or learning disability nurse to work as a theatre nurse. After a period of induction, you will undertake specialist training including courses to consolidate the specialist skills you will require to work in theatre.

2021 salary expectations for a theatre nurse

You can expect a starting salary of £24,907 rising to £37,890 when more experienced.

8. Midwifery role and pay

There is a shortage of midwives across the globe, making the demand for midwives more important than ever.

To become a midwife, you will need a degree in midwifery, which takes three years to complete. If you are already a registered adult nurse, you can undertake a shorter course instead, which takes 18 months. When you qualify, you will be able to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), allowing you to practice as a midwife.

role of a midwife image

Maternity Support Worker

As a maternity support worker (MSW), you will work under the supervision of a registered midwife. They are sometimes also known as maternity healthcare support workers.

You'll be:

  • helping to care for mothers and babies
  • making routine observations (temperature, pulse, blood pressure, breathing, etc)
  • updating records and other admin tasks
  • educating parents one-to-one or in groups
  • taking blood samples for testing
  • ordering stationery and equipment
  • preparing equipment
  • promoting breastfeeding
  • reporting problems to a registered midwife or nurse

There are no set entry requirements. Employers expect a good standard of numeracy and literacy and may ask for GCSEs or equivalent. They may ask for a qualification in health and social care, nursery nursing or childcare such as CACHE, NNEB, BTEC or NVQ.

Employers usually ask for experience of working with children and families. This can be either or paid or voluntary work. There are often posts advertised for midwifery assistants and maternity healthcare assistants. These could enable you to gain experience to apply for positions as an MSW.

You will get the training you need to do the job. This includes an introduction to the department, how to use the equipment and the procedures to follow.

You may be offered the chance to study for qualifications such as:

  1. the NCFE CACHE Level 2 Certificate in Healthcare Support Services
  2. the NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma in Healthcare Support

With experience, you could become a senior support worker. You could apply for other jobs in the wider healthcare team or you could apply to train as an assistant practitioner, midwife or nurse

2021 salary expectations for working in midwifery

As a maternity support worker or assistant, you can expect a starting salary of £18,005 a year.

As a fully qualified midwife, you can expect a starting salary of £24,907 increasing to £44,503 with more experience.

9. NHS benefits

  • Enhanced pay for unsociable hours – between 30% and 60% above the standard rate for night shifts, weekends and bank holidays
  • The NHS Pension Scheme remains one of the most generous and comprehensive in the UK
  • 27 days’ holiday per year, plus bank holidays
  • Free access to occupational health and counselling support
  • Six months full pay and six months half pay for sick leave
  • Generous maternity and paternity leave (well above the statutory minimum)
  • Vast and varied access to training courses and professional development

NHS Benefits - Information retrieved from NHS Jobs August 2020

Salary information retrieved from National careers correct as of 21st December 2020 aim to be the ultimate provider of educational support. From personalised academic support services to free learning resources, we are here to help nursing and healthcare students at every stage of their education.

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