Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Claims NHS ‘exploiting’ apprentice HCAs through low pay


Many hospitals are treating apprentices, including those in healthcare support roles, as “cheap labour” by paying them the minimum wage, according to a union.

More than a third of employers across the NHS are hiring apprentices at the statutory minimum of £3.30 per hour, despite having the facility to pay them more under Agenda for Change, said Unison.

“When it comes to apprentices it’s a free-for-all”

Christina McAnea

Apprentices were being used as a cheap alternative to plug staffing gaps, claimed the union in its report – titled You’re Hired: A Unison Report on Apprenticeships in the NHS.

It also raised concerns that NHS employers were failing to ensure staff on in-work training programmes gained a recognised qualification or even completed their apprenticeship.

The report was based on 233 responses to a Freedom of Information request sent in November to trusts, boards and clinical commissioning groups in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Unison analysed pay rates for common apprenticeship roles including healthcare assistants, pharmacy workers and administrators.

It found apprentices working in healthcare support roles received £4.22. Overall, the average pay for many of the apprentices in the survey for 2014-15 was less than £4 an hour.

However, the minimum on the lowest AfC pay band in England and Northern Ireland during that period was £7.31. Scotland in contrast to the rest of the UK has agreed to pay all apprentices £8.25 an hour.

It comes as apprentice numbers in England are set to soar as a result of new targets and a compulsory levy on NHS employers.

The target number of apprentices the NHS in England is expected to hire annually is set to rise from 17,000 in 2015-16 to 100,000 by 2020.

Meanwhile, the apprenticeship levy will be introduced in April 2017, which will mean employers have to pay a sum upfront to pay for in-work training schemes that will be offset by subsequent allowances if they take on enough apprentices .

The government’s idea is that employers will be able to get back more than they put in by training sufficient numbers of apprentices.


Unions welcome Francis proposals on whistleblowing

Christina McAnea

Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: “This is a low-pay scandal and will get worse given the government’s push for the NHS to meet higher targets for hiring apprentices.

“All other NHS staff are protected by a nationally negotiated pay structure which ensures consistent, fair and equal wages,” she said. “But when it comes to apprentices it’s a free-for-all.

“At the very least we need a new national agreement on apprenticeship pay rates so the people on them get a fair deal and real career progression,” she added.

The report was released ahead of the start of the union’s annual healthcare conference in Brighton.


Readers' comments (7)

  • look at Unity (greater manchester trust). They employ people who would get the paid jobs , but have them on Apprentice schemes instead.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Hmmmmm what about the student nurses paid £400 a month maximum bursary expected to complete 40 hours a week placement for six months a year. "Supernumary" but working as hard to other paid members of the team. Hmmmmm!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I once heard a sister gloat that her and the matron would rather employ an apprentice at £400 per month as opposed to a band 5!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I was an apprentice nurse in 1965 worked 40hrs a week and received a monthly wage of £16 after board and lodging. The difference is it was a profession I was proud to belong to and work towards becoming an RSCN, SRN.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • taswild

    We are all slaves to the economy, many of us work as hard as any business professional, maybe not the hours in some cases but in terms of what is achieved in a shift. I was once told when complaining about what nurses do compared to what they get paid, "If you want to be in a job that pays money you have to be in a job that makes money" . It goes to show what society values over health outcomes, compassion.The big question then is why is medicine more lucrative? I do not suggest that Medicine is worth less but that nursing is potentially worth more. The goal of each profession is to care and provide quality outcomes. Nurses are not , and should never be referred to as hand maidens in a modern context where education and knowledge are key to the profession. Exploitation is how the wealthy stay wealthy and the masses do their bidding. Lower pay is a form of social control. Stand strong but not silent.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • we all know you don't go into nursing for the money, we're told that often enough. What is happening is that because we 'care' and thats why we've gone into the role that somehow magically entitles us to less because we do it because it needs to be done... I'm proud to be a student nurse but nurses and health care assistants and others need to stand up and say I'm worth more than this, because the government and even the unions dont seem to be bothered about how low moral is how low pay is how impoverished the staff are as long as the job is getting done... because we care

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • They are training band 2 HCA's to do the work that band 3 and above are trained to do and get paid for . But the band 2 's don't get any extra pay for the extra work that is being forced on them .

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.