Could a new apprenticeship bridge the health and social care gap?

Debbie Andalo
Could a new apprenticeship bridge the health and social care gap?. Trailblazer groups are piloting a joint apprenticeship in health and social care – but aligning pay and conditions across sectors remains a stumbling block

A new integrated apprenticeship in health and social care is being developed that will equip staff with the skills to work in either sector. Trailblazer groups are seeking to create a workable model which could be in the workplace within two years.

Helen Wilcox, chair of the adult social care trailblazer group, says: “It’s early days and it’s not been nailed yet, but we are starting a scoping exercise to see if anybody can come up with a formula that can work.

“If we can’t see [health and social care] integration happening, then perhaps at least we can integrate the workforce so that the experience of people receiving care and support is one where they don’t need to feel the joins.”

Pilot projects – mostly involving hospital trusts and care providers – have already tested different integrated apprenticeship models. One obstacle that emerged was the time needed to support an apprentice in the care sector, where services are typically delivered by small- and medium-sized enterprises often lacking their own training departments. But the main obstacle proved to be differences between the sectors in pay and employment benefits. “That’s the bottom line,” says Wilcox.

A homecare provider in Gloucestershire, aVida Care, was behind a year-long pilot integrated health and social care level 2 apprenticeship that it ran with Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS foundation trust. Apprentices spent six months with aVida and another six on a medical care ward for older people.

Jacqui Adams, registered manager and director of aVida, believes a key challenge in designing an integrated apprenticeship will be governance. “There are core skills across health and social care apprentices but also key differences,” she says. “For example in domiciliary care at level 2, we allow our care workers to administer medication – but this is not permitted in hospitals, where only registered nurses can do it.”

Care Development East, formerly The Suffolk Brokerage, is a not-for-profit organisation that secures funding for social care training across the county. It also provides information, advice and guidance in health and social care training. It helped set up an integrated health and social care apprenticeship pilot in hospital, community service and residential care settings.

Related: The NHS apprenticeships offering a new route to health and social care

“One issue was the nature of the commitment required from the care sector,” says Emma White, workforce manager at Care Development East. “Some in social care feel they are the poor relation and that they would invest all this time into an integrated apprenticeship, but then lose the apprentice to health because that is where they want to work.”

Earlier this year, the first three recruits graduated from the integrated health and care apprenticeship run by North Devon healthcare NHS trust and Devon county council. They completed a level 2 clinical healthcare support award – the qualification typically required to work in an acute hospital trust – and the care certificate, the minimum needed to work in care. They also completed other qualifications in clinical competencies. All three apprentices chose to work in the NHS.

The trust and county council are now evaluating the programme before deciding whether it should become a permanent fixture. Gail Richards, the trust’s training manager and apprentice lead, says conflicting terms and conditions were an issue, but not insurmountable. “I think there are a few learning points for us, but I am sure we will continue to offer this option. It’s been absolutely great for the students – it makes them a much more rounded carer.”

Experience: ‘The training has helped me feel so confident’

An integrated apprenticeship gave Maisy Parks the chance to try three different sectors before deciding to become a healthcare assistant

Maisy Parks completed her integrated health and social care apprenticeship in north Devon in March this year. She spent six months working on a surgical ward, six months working in a care home for adults with dementia and another six months working at a day centre for adults with learning disabilities.

Parks, 20, says the experience meant she could dip her toe into different sectors before deciding where she wanted to start her career. “I could have become a healthcare assistant in a hospital when I left college, but I thought if I didn’t like it I would be stuck in a job.

“What appealed to me was that the integrated apprenticeship gave me the chance to work in different settings.”

She is now employed as a healthcare assistant on a hospital surgical ward, but knows the apprenticeship has made her a “more rounded” employee. “I think it’s definitely helped me in my current job. If we get a call saying a patient with a learning disability is coming on to the ward, I feel so confident in being able to look after them.

“Before, if I had been told that the patient had autism and couldn’t communicate verbally I wouldn’t have known what to do. But because of my day centre placement I know how to communicate non-verbally – it doesn’t scare me.”

The cross-sector training has also given Parks more career options and future-proofed her working life, she says. “I’ve definitely got more employment flexibility. I’m young now and wanted to work in the hospital because of the variety, but when I’m older I might go and work in a care home because I know what it’s like and it impressed me so much.” DA