NHS trusts urged to spend apprenticeship levy faster or risk losing their funds

Health Education England has written to NHS trusts encouraging them to use or transfer their apprenticeship levy funds after finding their annual £200 million pot is not being spent fast enough.

A joint letter from HEE’s chief executive Ian Cummings and NHS Improvement’s executive director of nursing Ruth May warned that a “large amount of NHS apprenticeship levy funding remains unspent” and reiterated the importance of the NHS making “full use of its levy funds” or risking losing them.

The letter, which was sent on October 23, asked every individual NHS trust to “confirm how much you expect to spend and what is likely to remain unspent”.

It also reminded recipients of the opportunity to transfer 10 per cent of the unspent money to other organisations – which will increase to 25 per cent in April 2019 – and warned that “in the event that the transfer opportunity is not used, this money will be transferred out of the NHS, which would be a disappointing outcome”.

The NHS has previously said it will struggle to spend the £200 million apprenticeship levy payments it is shelling out annually within the 24 month timeframe that the government has set for levy-payers.

The Royal College of Nursing has also warned before that the apprenticeship route is “both costly and less efficient to the healthcare system in growing local workforce” as it takes four years to complete, as opposed to a three year university course. 

The apprenticeships levy was launched for employers with a paybill of over £3 million in April last year. They have two years to spend their levy pot on apprenticeships training, which the government hoped would boost apprenticeship starts.

In June, FE Week reported that the number of people starting an apprenticeship with the NHS had fallen by more than a third over the last two years.

The NHS is subject to a public-sector apprenticeship target, and needs to ensure at least 2.3 per cent of its workforce starts an apprenticeship every year.

In 2017/18 alone it would have needed to achieve 27,500 starts to hit this target. Instead, the health service saw just 12,611 starts last year, down 36 per cent on the 19,820 in 2015/16 and equating to just one per cent of its workforce.

This was despite a pledge from former health secretary Jeremy Hunt in 2016 to create a further 100,000 starts in the sector by 2020.

At the time, a spokesperson for HEE said the drop was “as a result of NHS organisations taking the time to implement and adapt to the new apprenticeship reforms and systems introduced in May 2017”.

The letter said it “commends NHS employer organisations for the progress achieved to date towards delivery of the NHS apprenticeship target” and recognises that a “great deal of hard work has gone into developing apprenticeship programme offers within the NHS so far”.

It added: “A large amount of NHS apprenticeship levy funding remains unspent. It is important that the NHS makes full use of its levy funds to offer high quality apprenticeship programmes, develop the workforce skills mix and build a sustainable domestic workforce for the NHS.”

A spokesperson for HEE said information about how close the NHS is to achieving its apprenticeship target will be published next month, but some trusts will not spend their full levy pot even if they achieve the target. She added that HEE does not determine how much levy each trust should spend.