A £500,000 pilot scheme will enable nurses in the Highlands and Islands to become fully qualified midwives in less than two years.
The shortened midwifery programme will be available to locally-registered adult nurses and those from further afield who wish to study at the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) and then work in the region.
It is being delivered in conjunction with NHS Highland and NHS Western Isles and is due to start in January next year, running for 20 months.
The Scottish Government will fund tuition fees for 20 students, provide bursary support of about £6,500 per student for those currently not in employment and help fund the salary costs of existing employees undertaking the training.
Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “We are taking action to widen access to midwifery and this pilot programme will allow nurses – both living in the Western Isles and Highlands and Islands and those who live elsewhere but wish to work in the region – to become registered midwives faster than the standard courses currently on offer.
“I hope as a result of this, more nurses will consider a career in midwifery where there will be more posts available.
“Applications are now open and I would encourage those who have considered training to become a midwife in the past but haven’t pursued it to apply.”
It’s hoped the initiative will have a significant impact upon the care available in rural areas, where it can sometimes be difficult to attract and retain skilled staff.
Chris Anne Campbell, nurse director at NHS Western Isles, said: “This is an important development to sustain and enhance midwifery care in our island community and we are grateful to UHI and the Scottish Government for making this possible.”
Those thoughts were echoed by MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, Kate Forbes, who said: “This is fantastic news on so many levels.
“At a time when recruitment for rural areas is challenging, this will train people in the Highlands and then enable them to work there.
“It’s also great for aspiring midwives who already live in the Highlands. instead of leaving for training elsewhere, they can stay at home, train and then work near friends and family.
“Lastly, it puts the Highlands on the map as a place to learn and train as UHI is increasingly endeavouring to do.”
Mary Burnside, head of midwifery for NHS Highland, added: “NHS Highland welcomes the support of the Scottish Government to this exciting new initiative which will open up career options for nurses who are committed to working and living in Highland area.”