Apprenticeship cuts threaten healthcare sector’s future in Wales

Severe cuts to the apprenticeship programme in Wales will have dire consequences for patient and residential care, the Welsh Government has been warned.

Proposed Welsh Government cuts to apprenticeship budget, together with the loss of European funding, could result in nearly a quarter (24%) of the programme in 2024-’25 being slashed, it is claimed by training and healthcare providers and educational institutions across Wales.

The National Training Federation for Wales (NTFW) and CollegesWales have already warned about the catastrophic and irreversible impact these cuts would have on the apprenticeships in Wales. They estimate that the number of apprenticeship new starts in 2024-‘25 will be halved to 10,000.

Recent figures lay bare the potential impact on the healthcare sector in Wales, which is facing a 69% reduction in apprenticeship opportunities at a time when the workforce challenges have never been greater.

This is because most learners who start an apprenticeship in healthcare are over the age of 25 years and Welsh Government funding will be prioritised for younger learners.

First Minister Mark Drakeford has stated: “There will be an alignment between the way we spend our apprenticeship money and our young person’s guarantee to make sure that young people needing that start in their careers continue to receive it here in Wales.”

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething, who is responsible for the apprenticeship budget, has echoed that by stating “They [apprenticeships] will still continue to support our young person’s guarantee, helping young people at the start of their careers, and businesses will still be able to recruit apprentices to find opportunities to develop their own staff.”

Recent analysis by the NTFW has identified that, if the Welsh Government does prioritise young people under the age of 25, there may be no new apprenticeship opportunities for those aged 25 and above in 2024-‘25.

The NTFW, which represents work-based learning providers across Wales, says this will have a serious impact on every sector of the Welsh economy, with healthcare and public services facing the most severe consequences.

It’s estimated that there will be 5,500 fewer apprentices in this Welsh Government priority sector, which includes health and social care, clinical healthcare, dental nursing and children’s care and learning and development.

The NTFW says it’s ironic that Health and Social Services, which has been prioritised in the draft budget through an additional investment of £929m, is the very sector which is going to be most adversely affected by the £38m cut in the apprenticeship budget.

Drilling down further, the NTFW says health and social care will see the biggest reduction in opportunities, with more than 3,000 fewer apprentices in 2024-‘25. This comes at a time when the social care workforce is already in crisis, according to NHS leaders in Wales.

A survey in 2022 by the NHS Confederation, a national membership body representing all organisations that make up the NHS in Wales, found that all health service bosses agreed there is a crisis in the social care workforce.

The NHS Confederation claims the social care crisis is impacting every single part of the NHS, from ambulance services and emergency departments to elective care, diagnostics, GPs, mental health services and community care.

This was echoed by a recent inquiry by the Senedd’s Health and Social Care Committee that concluded: “The social care workforce crisis and lack of social care service capacity continues to be one of the main causes of delayed hospital discharge.”

Lisa Mytton, NTFW strategic director, said: “The NTFW urges the Welsh Government to reconsider the proposed cuts to apprenticeships and engage in a constructive dialogue to find a viable solution that supports both the healthcare sector and the wider economy of Wales.”

Healthcare and training providers across Wales are also calling for an urgent review of the decision, emphasising the need for sustainable funding to safeguard the future of healthcare services.

Innovate Trust, a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities to live independently within the community, has expressed its concerns.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, job vacancies have risen to an unprecedented level,” said a spokesman. “Qualification funding is crucial for us as a charity organisation to ensure that our employees are fully qualified and registered with Social Care Wales.

“Any cuts to funding would have a detrimental impact on our work. Innovate Trust heavily relies on support and funding to provide Health and Social Care qualifications to maintain the skills of its workforce.”

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NTFW warns that apprenticeship cuts will have dire consequences for the healthcare sector.

Lisa Mytton, the NTFW’s strategic director – “engage in a constructive dialogue”.