A fair deal for apprentices in the NHS

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2016 Health Care Service Group Conference
18 December 2015
Carried as Amended

Conference notes that the NHS is employing an increasing number of apprentices. In England for example, there were nearly 15,000 apprentice starts in 2014/15 and Health Education England has set a target for the NHS in England to take on another 17,500 during 2015/16. This figure will increase further following the government’s recent introduction of a 0.5% apprenticeship levy that will be applied from April 2017.

Conference also notes that in 2014/15 two-thirds of apprentice starts in the NHS were existing staff. Around half of these were in clinical roles while the rest were in a wide range of other non-clinical roles, including administration, catering, maintenance trades, IT and customer service. Further to this, half the apprentices taken on in 2014/15 were aged 25 and over. A freedom of information request conducted by UNISON also indicates that the number of apprenticeships in non-clinical support services has seen a significant increase since 2012.

Conference supports the use of high quality apprenticeships as a means of widening participation and enabling candidates from disadvantaged groups to gain a start in the NHS. However, there are concerns about the government’s crude target driven approach which measures apprenticeship starts, rather than completions, outcomes or the quality of training.

Conference notes with concern the increasing number of reports from branches about the wide variations in approach to setting apprentice pay rates, especially in low paid non-clinical roles. This brings with it the risk that some employers could seek to replace large numbers of substantive posts – that would have attracted full Agenda for Change salaries and provided on-the-job training – with apprenticeships in order to meet targets, and secure a supply of cheap labour.

Conference also notes the government’s announcement on the apprenticeship levy in the autumn 2015 comprehensive spending review. Conference is concerned that the arbitrary nature of this levy could leave a sizeable hole in NHS employers’ finances while incentivising employers to take on apprentices with no long term commitment to their development or further employment in order to recoup the money paid into the levy.

Therefore conference calls on the Health Service Group Executive to:

1.Work with the operational services occupational group and other relevant occupational groups to develop a UNISON definition of a good NHS apprenticeship scheme and encourage employers to adopt it.

2.Encourage UNISON branches in England to get local partnership forums to sign up to NHS England’s Local Partnership Pledge (Talent for Care).

3.Produce guidance for branches involved in negotiating apprenticeship schemes.

4.Provide assistance to branches campaigning against the exploitation of apprentices that undermines Agenda for Change pay scales.

5.Campaign for apprentices to be paid at least the Living Wage.

6.Work through the NHS Staff Council to achieve specific provisions on pay and training for apprentices.

7.Engage with Government Health Ministers, the Departments of Health and NHS Employers across the devolved administrations on the application of the government’s apprenticeship levy in the NHS

8.Work with LAOS and regions to support branches with the recruitment and organisation of apprentices