Peers are being urged to support the relaxing of restrictions to the government’s apprenticeship levy scheme to free-up cash for NHS trusts, says UNISON.
Previous UNISON research estimates that trusts in England are missing out on more than £200m. This is because unused cash earmarked to fund apprenticeships can’t be used for anything else, despite health budgets being stretched to breaking point.
Hospitals unable to spend apprenticeship funds within two years – because they’re too hard up to take on apprentices says UNISON – can have the funds clawed back by government to fund apprenticeships in other parts of the economy.
UNISON is asking the Lords – during their debates on the NHS Funding Bill – to see the health service as a special case and support its exemption from the restrictive levy-funding rules.
Reform would mean employers could use this money to pay NHS apprentices’ salaries and the wages of staff employed to cover them when they’re training.
Levy cash should also be ring-fenced in a new national NHS apprenticeship fund – to keep the money within the health service – and the two-year time limit dropped, argues UNISON.
In the longer term, UNISON believes chronic staff shortages could be addressed by the government investing additional money in this new apprenticeship fund as part of the people plan for the NHS.
The extra cash could fund the recruitment of more ‘earn as you learn’ apprentices – including in nursing where proper investment could make in-roads into the target of 50,000 additional staff.
UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “The apprenticeship levy model is failing the NHS.
“Hundreds of millions of pounds that could fund more NHS staff is sitting idle while the health service buckles under the weight of tighter budgets and unfilled roles.
“We hope the Lords will see the current system isn’t fit for purpose and support us to reform it so both NHS staff and patients benefit.”