Uni caught short after fast-tracking degree apprenticeship for NHS

Ofsted found some employers' operational needs for advanced clinical practitioners weren't being met

Ofsted found some employers' operational needs for advanced clinical practitioners weren't being met

26 Apr 2024, 11:20

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University bosses who shortened a degree apprenticeship to help the NHS tackle skills gaps have been criticised by Ofsted.

The education watchdog raised concerns following its inspection of University of Liverpool’s level-7 advanced clinical practitioner (ACP) apprenticeships, which resulted in an overall ‘requires improvement’ grade.

Inspectors found the two-year course failed to meet apprentices’ expectations and employers’ operational needs. The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education’s (IfATE) guidance on the ACP standard says courses typically last three years.

Ofsted reported a “few” employers and apprentices “feel that the curriculum has become too generic for their needs and interests”.

The university reduced the length of the apprenticeship to “enable NHS employers to recruit employees more quickly to meet skills shortages,” inspectors said.

Inspectors added: “A few apprentices who are nurses are disappointed with the narrow range of subject-specific optional modules, particularly in relation to specialisms in clinical assessments, such as the interpretation of blood results.”

However, Ofsted accepted that specific areas of interest could be focused on through a “negotiated” optional model.

Inspectors also noted that while two-thirds of apprentices achieved high grades, “too many” left early, despite the shortened length of the course.

This was the watchdog’s first full inspection of the university’s programme for 111 ACP apprentices since its launch in 2019.

Do other unis have shorter ACP apprenticeships?

An FE Week spot check of the 46 universities listed as offering ACP degree apprenticeships suggests only three others run shortened two-year programmes.

When approached for comment, a spokesperson for the University of Liverpool said the length of the apprenticeship was “comparable” with competitor programmes at the University of Salford, University of Central Lancashire and University of Bolton.

They did not respond when asked whether Liverpool shortened the length of the apprenticeship of its own accord or at the request of local NHS trusts or Health Education England (HEE).

HEE’s spokesperson declined to comment when asked whether it was aware of or involved in the shortening of ACP degree apprenticeships.

The University of Liverpool’s spokesperson told FE Week: “We accept the areas that Ofsted has listed as requiring improvement and these are being addressed by the dedicated team who already have robust, clear action plans in place to address the identified areas for development.

“We note that there are many positive aspects highlighted in the Ofsted report such as how, through teaching, apprentices are given the opportunity to engage with varied clinical practitioner roles and can apply these skills to their everyday jobs.

“We look forward to continuing to work alongside our local NHS Trusts to ensure that the course continues to be a valuable offering for healthcare practitioners looking to take their next steps on the career ladder.”

What is an ACP?

To become an ACP, apprentices must already be a nurse or a regulated healthcare professional such as a paramedic or occupational therapist. Apprentices gain a master’s degree in advanced clinical practice through the apprenticeship.

The role was created in its current form in 2017 and is central to the NHS’s long-term workforce plan.

This plan aims to address chronic workforce shortages of doctors and other medical staff by training up to 39,000 existing professionals to an advanced practice level by 2036/37.

They are expected to work outside traditional boundaries in both health and care settings with a “high level of autonomy and freedom” – including undertaking health assessments, formulating diagnoses and independent prescribing.

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