By Dr Navina Evans, Chief Workforce Officer, NHS England and Chief Executive, Health Education England
Addressing health inequalities across our communities continues to remain our core priority for the NHS in England. We understand that to achieve this ambition we need a workforce that reflects the communities we serve – one that is diverse and inclusive, with career paths for all.
That’s why I have signed the Care Leaver Covenant on behalf of NHS England, as we set an ambition to provide 1,000 internship or early-stage career opportunities for care experienced young people over the next three years.
The covenant, which was set up by the Department for Education six years ago, is a national inclusion programme through which organisations from the private, public and voluntary sectors pledge to provide support for care leavers aged 16-25 to help them to live independently
Our ambition can only be achieved by advocating, creating, and promoting equity of access to the employment opportunities that the NHS has to offer. By signing the Care Leaver Covenant, we are committing to ensuring that the care experienced community have improved access to employment, education, and training within our NHS family.
Meaningful employment has a transformational role in improving both the physical and mental health of our populations. Yet for those who were previously looked after and are in employment, there exists an average earnings gap of £4,000 per year eight years after completing GCSEs, and this increases to around £6,000 after 11 years when comparing all individuals in the labour market.
As the largest employers in Europe, the NHS is uniquely placed to support this community and change this situation for the better. From 2023, we will be leading a programme that supports care leavers to access a career in health, with an aim by 2025 to supporting at least 1,000 individuals to join our NHS family.
In our first year we will be working with 10 integrated care boards to help us design a supportive framework and develop the approach. By 2024 we want to have coverage across all 42 ICSs in England. This is a vital step forward as we know we need a future workforce that is bigger and more flexible.
It is important to make the investments we need today to shape the care we will need to deliver tomorrow. As Chief Workforce Officer at NHS England and the Chief Executive of Health Education England, I’m all too familiar with the various accessible employment, education and training routes including apprenticeships, volunteering, and widening access and participation programmes.
In this year alone we have:
- Worked with employers, training providers and others, to deliver over 100,000 NHS apprenticeship starts
- Continued to work in partnership with the Prince’s Trust to deliver an employability programme. Over 1,700 young people, aged 16-30, have been offered jobs, with over 1,300 gaining employment within the health and care sector.
- Supported more than 500 students with learning disabilities through internship courses via Project Choice
This care leavers programme builds on a legacy of widening access and participation. New career paths like that from care assistant through to registered nurse via Nursing Associate are becoming a well-travelled path and have a profound impact on our ability to widen participation in our professional clinical workforce. Or the medical doctor degree apprenticeship which gives individuals a new route to train as a doctor whilst offerings NHS organisations the opportunity to grow their future medical workforce.
In the history of the NHS, we have not seen as many non-traditional routes into an NHS career as we have today – all aimed at enabling young people to unlock the potential that lies within. As the lead for the new workforce training and education function, I give my commitment to embedding compassion, dignity and respect at workforce, training and education at the heart of the system to really add value to our NHS.
The five intended outcomes of the Care Leavers Covenant are that care leavers:
- Are better prepared and supported to live independently.
- Have improved access to employment, education and training.
- Experience stability in their lives and feel safe and secure.
- Have improved access to health and emotional support.
- Achieve financial stability.
With this in mind, I believe that together we can enable care leavers to build confidence, attainment and much more in these five areas. I call upon leaders across sectors to pull upon the levers available to them, nationally, locally and regionally, to help care leavers to really articulate and demonstrate what their skills are so they can thrive in an NHS career.