David Gallagher, Chief Executive At NCFE

As thousands of apprentices due to qualify as Nursing Associates face finding themselves in ‘limbo’ due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, leading End-Point Assessment Organisation for the health and care sector, EPA Plus, has launched a new campaign to help fast track learners through End-Point Assessment.

Thanks to new flexibilities agreed by the Institute of Apprenticeships and Technical Education, EPA Plus, which operates as part of the NCFE Group, has announced that it will be offering a minimum of 1,000 free End-Point Assessments (EPAs) for Nursing Associate Apprentices during the COVID-19 exemption period, to help ease some of the pressure on NHS staff levels and Government funding.

The Coronavirus outbreak has pushed the limits of the NHS almost to breaking point, with PPE, hospital bed and staff shortages well documented by the media. While over 20,000 retired GPs and health and social care workers are reported to have returned to service to help support the fight against the virus, nursing staff have still been in short supply.

While many vocational learners and apprentices have already been drafted into NHS Trusts and hospitals across the country to help support key workers until they complete their end-point assessments, they will be both unable to work unsupervised by a qualified colleague and unable to pass through to the next stage of their career or training, leaving them in a period of limbo while their employers focus remains on fighting the Coronavirus.

With the first cohort of Nursing Associates studying on the new Apprenticeship Standard which was introduced in 2017 due to graduate this summer, this 3,000-strong workforce would provide a welcome boost to the NHS.

“Nursing Associates have been identified by Health Education England as a key part of the workforce, vital to strengthening nursing teams and providing independent support to patients during this critical time,” Susan Goldstein, Head of Client Relations at EPA Plus, commented.

“What we are seeing at the moment however is a national pile-up of would-be key workers, unable to progress through gateway due to a lack of resourcing and a build-up of pressure both on the NHS and the public purse strings.

“Through our new free EPA offer, we’re aiming to address this issue head-on, to help enable Nursing Associate Apprentices to progress into the qualified workforce as quickly as possible in order to support the current situation, and as a gesture of thanks to our fantastic NHS for all of their incredibly hard work.”

The offer, which will be available on a first-come-first-served basis until June 2020, will not only widen EPA participation for full-time apprentices but also those existing healthcare workers who have been seconded into Nursing Associate roles to help plug gaps in NHS staffing. In order to take advantage of the offer, the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) and the employers’ digital apprenticeship service account will need to be updated to reflect a £1 price point, a point which has been clarified by the ESFA.

David Gallagher, Chief Executive at NCFE, commented: “At NCFE, we recognise the tremendous work that the NHS and wider health and care staff teams are doing during this testing time and as a leading End-Point Assessment Organisation for the sector through our EPA Plus offer, it is our duty to support the NHS in whatever way we can.

“Our nation’s apprentices have a vital role to play in the ongoing fight against Coronavirus. By taking positive and proactive measures to support Nursing Associates through their end-point assessments, we hope to provide the front line with the additional, qualified support that it needs at this challenging time and to help as many apprentices as possible to progress to their next stage in their careers and in their lives as part of our commitment to promote and advance learning.”

EPA Plus operates as part of the education and skills charity, NCFE, which also incorporates leading healthcare and education awarding organisation, CACHE, digital assessment solutions provider, Skills Forward, peer-to-peer learning provider, Peer Tutor, and its most recent acquisition, fellow education charity, Campaign for Learning.

For more information, visit www.ncfe.org.uk/end-point-assessment.

Kate Buckle
Article by Kate Buckle
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