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06.02.19

Mastering the maze of apprenticeships in the NHS

Source: NHE Jan/Feb 2019

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, navigates the “maze of bureaucracy” that is apprenticeships in the NHS.

Apprenticeships are a growing option for people to earn while they learn – an attractive prospect for many – and, as the NHS Long-Term Plan recognises, a vital entry route to a career in healthcare. 

However, the NHS is frustratingly being forced to work within the government’s inflexible apprenticeship policies. Employers are not finding it easy – and they aren’t the only ones who think that.

But with NHS apprenticeships – as it does with everything else – the health service is pulling together, finding solutions, and using the proverbial lemons to make lemonade.

“A maze of bureaucracy” is how the Education Select Committee inquiry into nursing apprenticeships describes the labyrinthine systems, processes, and rules that the NHS must navigate to make the best use of the significant apprenticeship levy we pay

Despite this, the NHS has delivered results: the health service supported 15,845 people last year to gain a qualification and a future of potential employment through an apprenticeship. It has also developed 29 new apprenticeship standards since the introduction of the levy in 2017, and it is taking all the steps it can to keep the £200m levy pot within the health and care sectors.

The NHS sees the increasing range of apprenticeship standards available as a golden opportunity to help grow our own talent and develop a workforce from our local communities. Additionally, the fact that apprenticeships are now available at levels two (equivalent to GCSEs) to seven (master’s level qualifications) shows the broad range of opportunities available to our service.

Yet many sectors are facing difficulty in utilising the apprenticeship levy, and many sectors have set out their own ‘special cases’ for flexibility. But, as the Education Select Committee explained, “the NHS is an organisation unlike any other provider of apprenticeships.” Therefore, there is a specific case for flexibility for our service.

Employers need three things from the government to help us make full use of the levy and find a way out of the maze:

  1. Use of the levy to fund employer costs for apprenticeships which require more than 20% ‘off the job’ training, such as for regulated professions where more supernumerary time is needed;
  2. Use of the levy to support trusts to build their training and development infrastructure so that the apprentices in our organisations get the support and help they need;
  3. An extension of the timeframe in which the levy is available to employers. In the NHS, we’ve developed dozens of new standards, but this has taken time – and this is time where we have not been able to use the levy on these standards. An extension to the timescale of the funds being available from 24 months to 48 months would make all the difference.

The NHS would welcome the opportunity to build on the excellent progress it has made if the flexibilities employers are asking for could be agreed.

Providing this support would enable the NHS to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships, thus helping the government to meet their quality and quantity targets around apprenticeships and make the most of this investment.

Ultimately, the NHS is working towards managing the ongoing difficulties in supply and is focused on taking all steps to improve and sustain excellent patient care.

Apprenticeships are part of this puzzle – if we can only be rescued from the maze.

 

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