Barts Health NHS Trust has been shortlisted in the workforce category at this year’s HSJ Awards for its East London Apprenticeship programme. The programme aims to fill one per cent of the establishment of the largest NHS Trust in the country with apprenticeships, in response to high unemployment in the area. We spoke to Andrew Attfield, Associate Director of Public Health at the Trust, to find out more.
What is the East London Apprenticeships Programme?
We have well over 1.5 million patient contacts a year and we’re the biggest single employer in the area, so we wanted to make a difference around health inequalities and maximise our role as an employer. One of the biggest single things we opted to do through our public health function was increase the number of apprenticeships we offered; this was also in response to high youth unemployment in the area. We set a target of having one per cent of our Trust’s workforce filled through apprenticeship positions. We have clinical apprenticeships in operating theatres, pathology labs, and are commencing a pilot in outpatients for Healthcare Assistants. We also have non-clinical apprenticeships in patient-facing roles such as Receptionists and back-office functions, including roles in medical records, HR and public health, and also in estates and facilities.
All apprentices are tested to at least Level 1 functional skills, and receive Level 3 training as well as extended work trials.
Why did your Trust decide to implement the programme?
We wanted to be seen as a supportive employer in an area that is suffering from high unemployment. We’re conscious of the impact of sustained unemployment on people’s long-term physical and mental health. Not only was there a health driver behind it, there’s also an equality and diversity driver – we have a policy of trying to recruit locally where possible, and that’s partly driven by the fact that we have a very ethnically diverse population, and we were anxious to move to a workforce which reflected the community.
What were the aims of this programme?
We were very anxious that we provided a project that can be termed ‘good work’. We aimed to have between 75-80% of our apprentices in permanent roles by the end of their time, which we have been able to deliver.
What benefits have there been?
In some areas of the Trust we have quite an ageing workforce, so we needed to bring in some younger staff. Young people have attitudes and skills that are useful, they tend to be more reflective of the local community, and have linguistic and cultural awareness, as well as good IT skills.
There are also savings in hiring apprentices. Even though we pay a good wage in national terms, there’s still at least a 50-70 per cent saving every time you employ an apprentice rather than a banded member of staff. That’s not our main driver, but nonetheless it’s a fact. It’s cost-effective.
Another benefit is getting trained staff at the end of it. Obviously they’re generally not experienced staff, but my personal experience is that they’re not a million miles away from the standard recruit in terms of attitude and skills. Probably some of our star successes have been through operating theatres, where they hadn’t been in that clinical environment before, but are now valued members of their respective teams having gone through the apprenticeship, and in many cases are now looking to move on to nursing training or Operating Department Practitioners training.
In terms of benefits to the community, we are a big employer and a service that everyone comes into contact with at some point in their lives, so I think there’s an expectation, particularly in the East End, that we play our part as an employer. It’s about building good will and a positive attitude towards the NHS, and we supplement that with our efforts in improving the health and wellbeing of our workforce as well.
What made you apply to the workforce category and did you expect to be shortlisted?
Well we were highly commended for our Community Works for Health scheme last year, so I suppose it was a bit of a surprise to be shortlisted again. But it’s useful in terms of profile raising, and we’re very pleased to be shortlisted for this. I know there are lots of other Trusts who run apprenticeship schemes, but we like to think that we’ve done this in a way that’s very strategic in terms of the health gains in the community and responding to local needs. Also some of our apprenticeships, such as the ones in theatres and pathology labs are quite unique.
Congratulations on being shortlisted and good luck at the Awards Ceremony.