• Cornish trusts offer nurse trainees apprenticeships 
  • Graduates must commit to staying with their trust for up to two years
  • Scheme aims to help Cornwall “grow its own workforce”

Nursing students will have their course fees paid for government funding in exchange for committing to work for two remote NHS trusts.

Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust and Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust hope the scheme will help them grow and retain their own workforce.

The scheme, dubbed the “virtual health and social care academy”, sees the students become employees of the trusts, and their course fees met from the government’s apprenticeship levy. The levy was introduced in April 2017 and is a government-managed pot from which all employers with a pay bill of more than £3m can draw money to fund apprenticeships. 

The trusts will pay the wages of the students, who must commit to working for their trust for two years upon graduation or pay the money back. 

At least 115 such students will start at the trusts in 2019-20 under the scheme.

The trusts have designed the scheme together with Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, Cornwall Council, the universities in Plymouth and Exeter, and several colleges.

Phil Confue, chief executive of Cornwall Partnership FT – which provides community and mental health services – said there would be more than 220 vacancies in his trust’s workforce by 2021 if “we didn’t come up with a different approach to recruitment and training”. 

He added that the strategy of trying to attract people to move to Cornwall is one approach, but one which is being attempted by NHS trusts in every area of England – and therefore “growing our own staff” is likely to be more effective.

“You will then get staff who are very committed to the organisation and feel part of the trust from when they are students,” he said. “Once they have a stability with a job, and they have a family and a mortgage they are unlikely to move away,” Mr Confue said. He added retaining graduates would also lead to less spending on agency staff and a reduction in the number of vacancies at the trust.

The scheme has been piloted with three cohorts of between eight and 15 students, and it will be formally implemented in autumn this year.

Meanwhile, CPFT has also launched a new programme to hire more than 30 clinical associate psychologists in a bid to expand its child and adolescent mental health service at Cornwall’s secondary schools.

Clinical associate psychologists do not have the same training and expertise as clinical psychologists, but can work with a range of patients, including in the community. They are not currently widely used across the NHS.

Mr Confue said only around one per cent of psychology graduates go on to become clinical psychologists because of the capped number of training places available, leaving a pool of other graduates with psychology degrees which the trust can tap into.

The recruits will be given a year’s paid training and placed at Cornwall’s 31 secondary schools, with supervision from CAMHS clinical psychologists – in return for committing to stay with the trust for two years.

“Here we have a potential workforce which wants to work in the healthcare field, and with additional training we can bring them in so we can increase our numbers really quickly,” Mr Confue said.

“For schoolchildren it means instead of waiting up to 28 days for treatment they can be seen within three days,” he said.

Article updated at 4.17pm on 16 May after a reporting error. Trusts will pay the students’ wages while training, and the apprenticeship levy will only be used to pay the students’ course fees. We earlier reported trusts could use the levy for both course fees and the wages of the students during training, but this was incorrect.