Enabling a new generation of physios to thrive in the profession and across the UK, as CSP education adviser Tamsin Baird explains
Degree level apprenticeships could benefit the physiotherapy profession
The first physiotherapy degree level apprenticeships were launched in 2019 and since then the numbers of both university programmes and apprentice learners have grown steadily.
This route to become a physiotherapist has many reported benefits. The apprentice can earn a salary whilst they learn and engage in structured career development across the workplace and university settings while having no fees to pay. For employers, apprenticeships provide the potential to address workforce gaps, improve patient care, reduce retention, and boost staff motivation through the development of a culture of learning.
Enabling workforce growth and diversity, through widening access into physiotherapy, apprenticeships can bring great value to the profession too. To date, many of those embarking on degree level apprenticeships have been existing members of the support workforce who aspire to become registered physiotherapists. Many will have worked alongside physiotherapists at a variety of levels, and all will bring valuable knowledge, skills and understanding through their lived experiences.
The recent release of the long-awaited NHS Long Term Workforce Plan1 has brought a major new focus on apprenticeships in England. The plan features a commitment to expand apprenticeships across many professions, with a target for five per cent of the physiotherapy workforce to be trained this way by 2032. This number certainly appears achievable, and as stated in our response to the plan2, we would also be comfortable if this percentage was higher.
Presently, physiotherapy degree level apprenticeships are only available in England. This disparity across the four nations is in part brought by a reliance on complex government funding and differing political priorities.
Within Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland there is growing awareness of the prospective value of physiotherapy degree apprenticeships. The Scottish Government’s Workforce Policy Review3 published earlier this year features recommendations to develop ‘Earn and Learn’ routes for the AHP professions.
In a nation with the highest levels of physiotherapy workforce shortages since records began alongside a relative flat line supply of graduates, the apprenticeship model could offer opportunities for workforce growth and diversification.
The Workforce Strategy for Health and Social Care in Wales (2020)4 aims to widen access by delivering a clear and equitable funding and commissioning model for education, including apprenticeships; and in Northern Ireland, although the Health and
Social Care Workforce Strategy 20265 does not mention apprenticeships, there is talk of commissioning sustainable training programmes for the workforce.
The CSP is actively seeking to be part of the ongoing discussions around apprenticeship policy across the UK.
If we are to meet the ambitious commitment to grow physiotherapy apprenticeships in England as well as further drive the agenda across all home nations, the implications for the profession could be significant. We must learn from our experiences to date to ensure the impact on the profession is positive across practice and education.
A commitment to and growth of the workplace mentor role is essential, enabling development in the education pillar of practice with training, time, and recognition of this crucial role to develop the workforce.
Thought should also be given to how this role is both different and in addition to the existing practice educator workforce, who must still be committed to support the practice-based learning of students across other routes into the profession.
The relations between university and employer must be collaborative to enable the societal needs of local services, populations, and communities can be met and for a coordinated approach to the ‘on’ and ‘off’ the job training required in apprenticeships.
Governance structures should be in place to capture the growing scope and skills of the apprentice as they progress towards registration and consideration should be made to ensure destabilisation of the existing support workforce does not occur.
Physiotherapy is not the only profession with commitment to apprenticeship expansion. With a finite pot of funding, employers may need to make decisions regarding who to fund and why. We must continue to advocate for the profession and demonstrate impact within this space.
Whilst growth in degree apprenticeships may not be a quick fix to the huge health care workforce challenges we currently face, they do have the ability to widen participation and support social progress within a local workforce. With joined up thinking and a measured approach, the impact could be transformative.
1 NHS Long Term Workforce Plan
2 Frequently asked questions on the NHS England workforce plan
3 Allied Health Professions - education and workforce policy review: recommendations
4 A Healthier Wales: Our Workforce Strategy for Health and Social Care pdf
5 Health and Social Care Workforce Strategy 2026 pdf
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