Health Service Focus

27.08.19

How the NHS harnesses apprenticeship levy opportunities

Source: NHE: Jul/Aug 19

Michelle Wayt, assistant director of development and employment at NHS Employers, discusses how organisations can best use the apprenticeship levy.

Paying £200m per year, the NHS is the largest contributor to the apprenticeship levy. To some this presents a range of challenges, but to many employers in our sector it is being harnessed as a catalyst for growth, opportunity and innovation. Hopefully, you might get a few ideas how to use the apprenticeship levy in your organisation. 

The NHS uses the apprenticeship levy to grow in three ways: 

Collaborative skills growth 

The first is collaborative skills growth. The NHS Long Term Plan requires all areas of England to move to an integrated care system model by 2021. This will see NHS bodies partner with local councils and other bodies to take collective responsibility for improving the health of the population they serve. Local services can provide better and more joined-up care for patients when different organisations work together in this way. 

For staff, improved collaboration can help to make it easier to work with colleagues from other organisations. And systems can better understand data about local people’s health, allowing them to provide care that is tailored to individual needs. By working alongside councils and drawing on the expertise of others such as local charities and community groups, the NHS can help people to live healthier lives for longer, and to stay out of hospital when they do not need to be there. 

The NHS wants to ensure the apprenticeship levy is fully used, and preferably used to support skills development within the health and care sector. This has led to local groups of employers working together across health economies to identify common skills needs. 

This collaborative working has resulted in shared apprenticeship programmes to develop specific roles across a region through the apprenticeship route. Working as a system allows us to collaborate on the procurement of courses from higher education institutions for more specialist roles, where a single trust may only have a handful of positions. As a system, a greater number is required and therefore makes the course viable for a higher education institution and more economical for the NHS. 

Fostering innovation 

Another way is fostering innovation and new roles. The shift in focus to apprenticeship training models has helped drive forward the scale up of new roles, such as the nursing associate. The apprenticeship levy has provided ring-fenced funds for the NHS to scale up the new nursing associate role at pace. There are now over 7,000 nursing associates either in training or qualified, which is a significant achievement when considering that the role was only introduced two years ago. 

Supply gaps 

The last is in managing gaps in the supply of staff. The NHS responded to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy promptly, taking stock of current occupation shortages and swiftly establishing trailblazers to develop standards in these professions. 

Within two years of the levy being introduced, the NHS has developed apprenticeship standards in hard-to-fill professions such as nursing, radiography and occupational therapy. Building these additional routes into shortage occupations not only helps to manage national supply challenges but also provides opportunities for those unable to afford full-time university to join our workforce as registered professionals. 

The NHS Interim People Plan states that there are currently 40,000 nursing vacancies alone. The NHS therefore needs to consider different ways of working such as nursing associates who bridge the gap between nursing assistants and doctors. Being able to deliver patient care through a variety of traditional and new roles can improve engagement amongst the workforce and reduce turnover, which in turn provides continuity of care for the patient and as such improves patient safety and experience. 

However, employers across all sectors could make more effective use of the apprenticeship levy fund if national policy was developed to support employers further. Enabling access to levy funds to support training time in excess of the 20% off-the-job requirement, extending the window in which levy funds are available, and allowing the use of the levy to build supervision capacity are key steps towards making apprenticeship policy really work for employers. 

Let’s keep working towards using the apprenticeship levy as a way to grow and innovate in our organisations.

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