Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust (CNTW) is celebrating its first ever apprentices to qualify as occupational therapists.
Georgina Aplin, Katie Clarkson-Berry and Ellen Pringle are the first in the Trust to have completed their degrees, all with First-Class Honours, to become qualified occupational therapists.
Established as a pilot in 2021, the two-year degree apprenticeship offers paid employment and education through a combination of learning and working across Trust services. In conjunction with Northumbria University, apprentices are given the opportunity to earn and learn.
This was the Trust’s first apprenticeship offered to allied health professionals (AHPs). CNTW has since supported staff onto apprenticeships in dietetics, speech and language therapy and arts psychotherapy, with future opportunities in physiotherapy.
All three apprentices worked as either occupational therapy assistants or activity facilitators and the new apprenticeship programme allowed them to take the next step to progress in their careers.
Occupational therapists offer a person-centred, holistic approach and are trained to work across the whole lifespan to maximise the potential for people to live full and active lives, enabling them to do the things that are important to them. The apprentices worked across a range of inpatient and community services including secure care and children and young people’s services.
Julie Morrow, Deputy Director for AHP and Psychological Services at CNTW, worked with Annette Connor, Apprenticeship Lead in CNTW’s Academy, to develop the AHP apprenticeship offer.
Julie said: “It’s been a privilege to support our apprentices to develop their careers. They are the most energetic, motivated and determined women.”
“To balance a full-time degree alongside busy work and family commitments is an absolute credit to their hard work and dedication. I am proud of their achievement and hope they have long and fruitful careers as CNTW AHPs.”
On finishing the apprenticeship, Georgina said: “It has been really hard work, but it’s been an amazing experience and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity.”
Ellen added: “The opportunity allowed me to gain my degree whilst continuing to work a full-time job, which is something I wouldn’t have been able to do if I had to attend university full time. I feel so relieved to have passed and I’m excited for my future as an occupational therapist.”
Katie said: “The experience has provided me with skills that have helped me grow in confidence both professionally and personally. Now that I have completed the apprenticeship, I’m excited to embark on the next chapter of my career.”
After graduating, the trio plan to develop a forum for other apprentices to share tips and learning. As trailblazers of the apprenticeship, they hope to pass on their knowledge and experience to others.
Julie added: “The apprenticeship is a great opportunity to develop our staff and is in line with the national AHP support workforce programme, which aspires to recognise, develop, and expand the non-registered workforce.
“There are high attrition rates for occupational therapists within the first few years of registration and apprenticeships provide a strategy for growing and developing our own workforce, providing our staff with the opportunities to learn and succeed whilst improving recruitment and retention.”
CNTW’s Academy supports existing and new employees to develop skills and gain academic qualifications and has recruited six more occupational therapy apprentices for 2022 and eight for the 2023 intake who will graduate over the next few years.
Annette Connor said: “This programme demonstrates a real commitment to the Trust’s ambitions to nurture the future workforce. The occupational therapy course has been a great success internally and we are delighted these candidates have taken the opportunity to progress their careers.”
CNTW is a leading provider of mental health and disability services.