How is the NHS using the apprenticeship levy?

From strategising to upselling, trusts are being innovative in how they maximise return on investment in the levy, says Danny Mortimer

The frustration with the apprenticeship levy is felt keenly by many employers, and we have long argued the case for reform on behalf of the NHS. 

But it is important to emphasise the positives of the levy and highlight how NHS organisations can maximise its impact. Below are six great examples of how NHS trusts, which collectively employ more than a million people across England, can use the levy:

Transfer a percentage of your levy to another employer

The Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust started conversations with its local clinical commissioning group (bodies that plan and commission healthcare services) to transfer part of its levy to fund three apprenticeships.

This equates to around £30,000 of apprenticeship activity. Although not yet complete, the trust has so far found the process fast and efficient. It anticipates outcomes will include keeping money within the NHS and an opportunity to pilot how it may want to use levy transfers in the future. 

Negotiate extras with training providers 

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust has moved away from a one-size-fits-all model of apprenticeship delivery and negotiated extras to tailor its apprenticeship programmes.

For example, as part of an apprenticeship programme for clinical leaders and ward managers, the trust organised bespoke workshops based on its training needs for managers, which included sessions on the 360-healthcare leadership tool, training in having challenging conversations by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), and mental health first aid.

Drive the market by procuring and negotiating collaboratively

Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust was among 12 organisations that agreed to conduct a collaborative procurement exercise for approximately 360 trainee nursing associate apprenticeships. The key enabler to working collaboratively was to trust each other and accept decisions made to progress the procurement exercise.

Work closely with procurement and finance teams

Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust set up an apprenticeship levy working group to support collaborative working between the apprenticeship, procurement and finance teams.

Working together, the group reduced procurement time from six months to two months, managed six successful procurement exercises, and was able to access knowledge and expertise from procurement and finance teams with more complex procurement exercises.

Include apprenticeships in your wider workforce strategy

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) has embedded apprenticeships into its workforce strategy to support workforce supply shortages, training needs and benefit services.

The trust’s activities to support this included the creation of a comprehensive managers’ guide to include a visual representation of all apprenticeships available.

As a result, the trust has seen more managers approaching the apprenticeship team to recruit apprentices within their divisions and has seen an increase in staff asking which apprenticeships are available to them.

Become a training provider

Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust has been delivering apprenticeships since 2011. The levy reforms brought the opportunity to deliver the trust’s own apprenticeship training and it applied to the register of apprenticeship training providers. The trust now delivers a variety of programmes internally and works with external partners to provide a variety of clinical and non-clinical apprenticeship opportunities from levels two to seven. 

With examples like these, it becomes clearer to see how organisations outside the NHS might use the levy and help grow themselves – and society as a whole. There is more, however, the NHS could do to make best use of the apprenticeship levy. We continue to request greater flexibility in the use of the levy, and make the case for access to our funds to support the building of further apprenticeships programmes across the health service.

Danny Mortimer is chief executive of NHS Employers