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'Inappropriate behaviour' toward trainees contributes to decision to cut education funds

Published on: 14 Jul 2021

An ambulance trust has lost funding for hundreds of trainees after a watchdog found it had been slow in addressing safety concerns and inappropriate behaviour.

East of England Ambulance Service Trust is now trying to find an external provider for its apprenticeships after the Education and Skills Funding Agency withdrew funding for advanced and higher apprenticeship training (equivalent to A-Levels and a foundation degree respectively). The trust has 676 apprentices training to be emergency medical technicians and emergency care support workers.

HSJ has asked the trust about the value of the lost funding. 

An Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills visit in June focused on safeguarding concerns which had been brought to its attention. The inspectors found leaders had been too slow to make changes to improve safety for their apprentices, despite staff numbers in the safeguarding team having increased. They also found a significant minority of apprentices were still experiencing “inappropriate behaviour”.

The report added managers had an “overly optimistic view of the issues which still exist in the service” and were too accepting of reports which said there were no safeguarding concerns. No robust action plan was in place to ensure compliance with new safeguarding arrangements improved rapidly, while insufficient progress had been made in ensuring the safeguarding and wellbeing of learners, it added. 

Apprentices will continue to be employed by the trust and will continue to do their clinical placements but the education component of their training will need to transfer to another provider. The trust is working with Health Education England to find a suitable organisation to take this on.

According to the trust’s board papers, HEE is also planning a visit to get feedback from paramedic trainees, who are not affected by the apprenticeship inspection.

Tom Davis, interim chief executive, said: “We’re working closely with partners to make sure the transition to a new learning provider is as seamless as possible for our apprenticeship students and are determined to make improvements so that these learners feel well supported while they continue their clinical placements with us.

“We want every staff member to have a positive experience of our organisation. We’ve since put further changes in place to strengthen our safeguarding training and student support, and will be undertaking a detailed review of our education and training provision so that we can improve student experience now and in the future.”

The trust has told staff they will not suffer any financial disadvantage from the change of education provider and any additional costs they incur will be covered. 

Meanwhile, a Care Quality Commission inspection last year found numerous issues at the trust around sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour and bullying. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has also required the provider to sign a legally-binding agreement on protecting staff from sexual harassment. 

East of England is the second ambulance trust to run into trouble with Ofsted and ESFA. In 2019, South East Coast Ambulance Service Foundation Trust was banned from taking on new apprenticeships over concerns the trust had not met the requirements of successful apprenticeship provision and ensuring apprentices benefited from high quality training that leads to positive outcomes.

Apprenticeships have become popular with NHS employers since 2017 when the apprenticeship levy was introduced. This requires larger employers to pay 0.5 per cent of their wage bill into a fund which they can access to pay for apprenticeships. In some cases, trusts chose to become a provider registered with Ofsted themselves, although others use external providers for the education element of apprenticeships.