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Spotlight on... Health & Social Care

Spotlight on... Health & Social Care

The past year has been defined by uncertainty for health and social care, from news of staff shortages to continued strike action. The apprentice sector has faced its own problems, too, but as we’ll see, apprenticeships will play a pivotal role in turning the tide. Here’s what EPAOs need to know right now.

What’s the state of health and social care in the UK right now?

From the largest NHS walkout in history to post-pandemic pressures and high levels of burnout for professionals in the sector, there’s a sense that this year in particular has been one of the most challenging in recent memory for the health and social care sector.

Though it’s not the only cause, both of these issues have been linked to the growing demand for care and the shortage of skilled professionals who can provide it.

With the NHS citing 124,000 vacancies in care in England alone (with the private sector also struggling to fill roles) the lack of staff has stretched the health system, with consequences on the quality and responsiveness of care it can provide to patients.

In this context, the arrival of new apprentices is expected to fill this gap somewhat. However, the apprenticeship ‘ecosystem’ in health and social care is also under some strain.

What’s the state of apprenticeships in this sector?

Apprenticeships across a range of standards in health and social care are being defined by one major problem - apprentice drop-out.

According to government figures, the overall completion rate for apprenticeships in health, public services and care stands at just 49.2%. In certain sectors - notably, the ‘Young People and Families Practitioner' standard - it’s as high as 73%.

There’s no single cause behind this drop-out (it’s a problem that many other sectors are facing, too). However, 70% of apprentices cite ‘quality issues’ in their reasons for leaving the course early (among other personal reasons), while employers are calling for greater financial support to cover the costs of mandatory qualifications and apprentice training. 

It’s worth bearing in mind that employers in the public sector are also competing with private practices and struggling to manage the day-to-day demands of their (understaffed) facilities, meaning they can’t afford to give staff the time off to assess and train apprentices.

It’s in this context that apprenticeship starts for health, public services and social care have dipped by 1/5th in the last year, and two of the largest providers declared bankruptcy in the same period.

In spite of all of this, both government and the private sector are banking on apprenticeships as the solution to broader problems: driving growth and revolutionising healthcare services in the UK.

What can we expect to change in the coming year?

Government, awarding bodies and sector leaders are committed to a major overhaul of the role that apprenticeships will play in providing skilled professionals in health and social care.

This will come in the form of two major shake-ups, which are already underway:

1) The Medical Doctor Degree Apprenticeship

From September 2024, the first intake of apprentices for the Medical Doctor Degree apprenticeship standard will begin. This will give those training to be doctors a non-university-based - but still equally rigorous - route to a career in medicine.

2) Blending mandatory qualifications and EPA.

More widely, IfATE is in the process of making profession-specific qualifications a mandatory part of assessment (alongside EPA) for all applicable apprenticeship standards. This is intended to stop apprentices from dropping out before EPA (after having gained a professional qualification) which will help ensure apprentices and employers see the apprenticeship to its end.

It’s an ambitious, game-changing strategy that aims to fill vacancies and (in the long term) put apprenticeships on a level footing with degrees as a route to a technical career in the medical field.

It will change everything for apprentices and employers: and that means it will change everything for EPAOs, too.

What can EPAOs do to get ahead?

As we mentioned earlier, major providers in healthcare apprenticeships have been impacted by the challenges in the sector. Apprentice drop-out has made maintaining certain standards - and therefore, the need to provide EPA - a more difficult task.

On the other hand, with these major overhauls to apprenticeships in health and social care, EPAOs will have to adapt to a new reality very quickly. They will have to incorporate new standards, navigate a blended ‘mandatory qualification’-plus-EPA model for existing ones, and (hopefully) manage a noticeable increase in apprentice, employer and training provider numbers.

Only flexible and versatile EPAOs will be able to do it. epaPRO will be a decisive tool to support them.

epaPRO doesn’t just let EPAOs deliver end-point assessments efficiently - it lets them keep track of ever-changing standards, automate their flows of information and seamlessly manage every stakeholder involved.

It’s a one-stop-shop online platform that ensures EPAOs provide an exceptional quality of service to apprentices, employers and training providers - which is just one thing they can do to ensure apprentices stay on track.

If you want to learn more about the kinds of changes you can expect, and how your EPAO can get ahead of them, please book a demo with our team to see how the platform can deliver for you.