Retaining 100 per cent of nurse degree apprentices

southampton's nursing apprentices

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust is growing its nursing workforce with the registered nurse degree apprenticeship programme. In this blog, Anita Esser, head of wider healthcare teams education at the trust, shares with us how they retain their nurse degree apprentices.

Back in 2017, we made our case to the trust’s board about offering the nurse degree apprenticeship programme. Using relevant workforce data, we knew we needed to think differently about how we were going to maintain the number of newly qualified nurses.

We were anticipating a reduction in recruiting new starters, as the number of direct-entry students attending local universities was dropping. When looking at our nurse recruitment and retention within the trust, we found that on average our nurse turnover was around 10-12 per cent per year and our age profile of nurses showed a large amount were coming up to retirement. The organisation is growing and with extra service expansions to manage as well, it was clear we needed to take action.

In the past, we made use of the Health Education England-funded, Open University healthcare assistant to registered nurse route, and the retention rate of those that had completed the programme to stay on as registered nurses was high. Therefore, we thought with the use of the apprenticeship levy, that the nurse degree apprenticeship (NDA) would be a really strong route to use.

There have been three intakes onto the programme, with one intake in October for the last three years. There have been 91 apprentices using this route and a further 11 joined this year on the assistant practitioner or nursing associate progression to NDA route as well. Across all three of these intakes, there has been no attrition and therefore we have managed to retain all of the apprentices in post.

There are a number of things which have contributed to this successful retention of our nurse degree apprentices. Most importantly, we have a very good working relationship with our higher education institute, BPP University. The university has practice educators onsite, so if learners are struggling, they can go to them for support, which has enabled a great level of flexible delivery and how it’s been embedded as a blended approach between provider and trust.

We also have an education team at the trust, who are happy to meet with students to talk through where they are having challenges. In addition to this, there are education teams on the wards and in departments, as the apprentices have worked in the trust prior to starting their apprenticeship, they already have the relationships in their teams, so can also ask for support when needed.

The apprentices also received trust approval to have support of backfill for the duration of their four-year programme, so that the clinical areas knew that if they released a healthcare support worker to do the NDA, it would be supported for the duration of the training. The trust agreed to support backfill for three days, the full 22 and a half hours a week at band one, for all staff who went onto the programme.

This meant that some of the staff who were healthcare support workers in band two roles were being uplifted to a band three and those already in band four posts were pay protected for the whole programme. It was an incentive for those that wanted to do it and it meant managers were happy to release staff and given the support to enable it.

In addition to this, recruitment onto the apprenticeship programme is thorough. We asked people to undertake a small amount of work to demonstrate their commitment to the apprenticeship. If they didn’t have the skills required for the programme, we signposted them to study skills sessions or Future Learn activities. Once on programme, the university makes sure that apprenticeships have the study skills required at the beginning with activities available to them throughout for ongoing support.

Finally, all of our NDAs are existing healthcare support workers, we haven’t gone out to external recruitment at all. We have found it was the right thing to do to give our great number of our support workers the opportunity to do this programme. While on the programme we ensure that they are happy and pleased with their decision to progress their careers.

Find out more about Anita’s work by watching her presentation from our nurse degree apprenticeships webinar or contact

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