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Apprentices step up to serve our NHS

This article is more than two years old.

The working lives of many of our staff members have been affected by the current COVID-19 pandemic. They have had to change their roles and working practices, move to new areas and take on new responsibilities.

This has also been true of our apprentices, whose programmes of education alongside practical work experience have similarly had to change.

In March 2020 we had 310 apprentices on a range of programmes, not only young apprentices, but existing Trust staff members who signed up to develop their careers.

During this very challenging period, we have been working closely with all our apprenticeship providers to minimise disruption to our apprentices’ studies. We remain fully committed to protecting their learning and student experience, and our education partners are offering alternative ways of learning wherever possible.

Abbie is a Level 2 Nursing Assistant Apprentice. The first sign that her apprenticeship was going to change came when the ward she was assigned to in the John Radcliffe Hospital was moved, and designated as a ward for patients with COVID-19.

Abbie chose to be a 'runner', helping staff get the equipment they need so that they don't have to leave the infection bay and change their Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - a vital role that reduces the risk of spreading the infection. She has become used to wearing a mask continuously herself on the ward, and talks about 'good days and bad days'.

She has also taken on extra responsibilities, from helping with ward housekeeping duties to checking equipment and supporting recovering patients, wherever there has been a need.

Abbie says: "I have been in contact with my assessor, who has been amazing; whenever I need a chat... she is always available. I keep in regular contact with my work colleagues from the ward, who are very helpful and understanding. No matter what piping I have on my uniform, and what role I have on the ward, I am part of the team."

Paul is a Nursing Assistant in the Emergency Assessment Unit (EAU) at the JR, undertaking the Pre-Registration Nursing Apprenticeship and studying for a Degree in Adult Nursing with the Open University.

EAU has been repurposed, and is now the Respiratory Emergency Department and a Clinical Decision Unit, with staff from both the Emergency Department and EAU working across both areas.

During the COVID-19 period he has been able to observe ward-based training sessions, including familiarisation with intubation equipment and processes, the care of patients with tracheostomies and the 'donning and doffing' of appropriate PPE.

 "Staff are being supportive towards each other" says Paul. "We have had access to the appropriate PPE, which has made the situation less stressful and easier to cope with.

"I would urge anyone in a similar situation to take advantage of the learning opportunities which these situations create."

Freyja is a Microbiology Laboratory Support Worker.

The absence of some staff members, who have had to self-isolate, has meant more tasks than usual for Freyja. The Laboratory is carrying out tests for COVID-19, and Freyja is involved in the cleaning of specimens and data entry, to assist the testing team.

She is continuing to perform her normal daily tasks of processing routine specimens such as urine and MRSA swabs, which allows other team members to carry out more COVID-19 testing, allowing patients to get results quicker.

"I feel incredibly proud to be working for the NHS during this pandemic," says Freyja. "The routine of coming to work is really helping me cope."

Our Business Administration Apprentices, such as Level 3 apprentice Sian, are also performing valuable work to support our COVID-19 response. Like many others, Sian is now working from home, and adapting to new working practices.

Among her many duties is keeping on top of the registers of clinical staff who have been trained in PPE or have enhanced their general skills - a hugely important task, as the Trust has to keep track of exactly what training each staff member has completed.

"I am coping fine with working from home," says Sian. "My tip would be to communicate with your manager if you feel overwhelmed... or to accept that other areas of your work may have to take a backseat during this pandemic."

Our apprentices have fully embraced a new way of working and studying, with many using remote learning resources. Some have learnt a huge amount over this challenging time and developed new skills and knowledge, working with a variety of our staff.

For those apprentices who have had to take a break in their learning, we hope to support them back on to their academic programmes shortly.

We want to thank our colleagues for the ongoing support they have provided to our apprentices in practice. Our Apprenticeship Team has received such positive feedback about our apprentices and how they have made a valuable contribution.

We have always seen our apprentices as integral to our core workforce, and to hear their inspiring stories makes us proud to have them as part of our team.

Mark Statham, Director of Nursing, Nursing, Midwifery and AHP Education, says:

"The contribution of our apprentices during these unprecedented times has been inspirational. Hearing of the contributions they are making and their willingness to adjust to ever-changing needs truly reflects the values of the Trust, indeed - #OneTeamOneOUH."

Pictured: OUH apprentices Paul and Sian.

Further information about apprenticeships with Oxford University Hospitals.