Apprentices in health – it doesn’t add up

The current COVID-19 pandemic means big changes for the way we work and we know apprentices are feeling the impact of these changes too. For some apprentices this means a break in access to training, working from home or moving to a full-time job.
If you are a Health apprentice and need support, please email

What’s the issue?

The NHS pays into a compulsory apprenticeship levy, which enables it to employ apprenticeships.

However, we have discovered around £200 million of apprenticeship levy funds has not been spent and is at risk of being clawed back by the government, meaning the NHS  could lose vital funds that could have gone towards training or solving the staffing crisis.

We are calling for:

  • This money to instead be retained by the NHS and ring-fenced into a ‘National NHS Apprenticeship Fund’. This would support expansion of the apprenticeship route to higher qualifications in the NHS.  The fund should be used to cover the salary support and backfill costs which employers say they cannot currently afford.
  • The government, as part of its long-term ‘People Plan’ for the NHS, to invest additional money into the ‘National NHS Apprenticeship Fund’ to ensure that apprenticeship routes into the healthcare professions can operate on a large enough scale. This will help address the major workforce shortages that the student-loan funded routes and international recruitment cannot fill and evidence from previous schemes shows that staff coming through ‘earn while you learn’ routes have good retention rates once qualified
  • NHS employers to make good on their commitment to negotiate a new deal on apprentice pay to deliver arrangements for apprentices that are fair, transparent, and consistent across the NHS. UNISON is calling for apprentice pay to be integrated within wider NHS pay arrangements as apprentices should be seen as valued part of the wider workforce. NHS pay arrangements include a minimum rate of £9.03 an hour to protect against low pay and an objective system for measuring jobs and allocating them to pay bands based on the level of skills and responsibilities required.
  • Bringing apprentices into this system will ensure they are paid fairly for the work they do while accounting for the fact that their responsibilities may be significantly reduced while they are training for a role. It will also guard against equal pay issues where apprenticeships largely done by women are relatively under-paid.
  • Flexibilities to allow NHS employers within an area to pool their levy funding so they can run joint schemes in order to gain better for value for money and share costs.