• NHS failed to spend over 70 per cent of the £200m NHS apprenticeship levy pot
  • Guidance calls for NHS to “embed apprenticeships within their workforce plans”
  • Also sets out continuing professional development funding allocation plans

The NHS failed to spend over 70 per cent of the £200m NHS apprenticeship levy, planning guidance published today said.

Around £150m of the allocated funding had not been spent by health service organisations within the 24-month deadline at the end of 2018-19. The funding has now been returned to the government.

The guidance stressed: “NHS organisations should ensure they are using this levy to support entry level talent into the NHS, senior staff with their continuous professional development and workforce retention.”

“Organisations are requested to review their workforce plans across the board for entry level talent and then embed apprenticeships within their workforce and recruitment plans to maximise use of the levy.”

Confirmation of the failure to spend the lion’s share of the funding follows NHS Employers and NHS Providers calling for changes to the way the levy is used. They argue a lack of flexibility in the system prevents trusts making full use of the £200m.

For example, apprenticeship funds cannot be used to pay for “backfill”, which refer to people employed by the trust to cover the apprentices released to training. Trusts also cannot use the levy to pay for apprentice’s salaries and only 25 per cent of the value of the scheme can be shared with local organisations.

The planning guidance also sets out expectations to progress towards an increase in nurse numbers across the NHS in 2020-21.

It said the target for 50,000 more nurses set by the government would be supported through a significant expansion of ethical international recruitment of “high-quality nurses, driven by a new programme, which will be established early in 2020”.

“All providers should proactively engage with the national programme, and regions will play a key role in implementation,” it said.

HSJ understands an earlier version of the planning guidance set out an ambition to increase nursing numbers by 10,000 this year was set – but this was removed before it was finalised.

The guidance also stressed the work to develop the People Plan – which it confirmed will be published in March/April 2020 - has reinforced the need for a “much more integrated approach to service, financial and workforce planning”.

“Providers and CCGs should incorporate this approach in their operational planning for 2020-21,” it said.

The planning guidance also confirms final confirmation of provider allocations for continuing professional development funding would be set by January 2020.

It said £150m of additional investment in CPD was announced by the government in the spending review at the end of last year.

“CPD allocations have been set against NHS Digital’s September 2019 workforce data and will be issued through the learning development agreement process in two stages,” it said.

“Providers will receive 50 per cent of their confirmed allocation in April 2020 and will be required to submit investment plans to HEE by July 2020,” it added. “Subject to approval of those plans, the remaining 50 per cent of the allocation will be issued in Quarter 3 of 2020-21.”