NHS apprentices underpaid and used as ‘cheap labour’, claims Unison

Hospitals are filling staffing gaps by hiring apprentices as “cheap labour” and paying them the bare minimum, a union report has claimed.

The report, You’re Hired: A Unison Report on Apprenticeships in the NHS, says that one third of NHS employers are taking on apprentices, including in healthcare support roles, and paying them the statutory minimum of £3.30 per hour, even though they ought to be paying more under the Agenda for Change.

Some workers are not even supported to complete their apprenticeship or gain a recognised qualification, the report claims.


Change slow in coming

Unison examined the responses of 233 Freedom of Information requests from NHS trusts, CCGs and boards across the UK, looking at pay rates for apprentice healthcare assistants, pharmacy workers and admin staff.

Healthcare assistants were paid £4.22 per hour, with the average for many trainees during 2014-15 coming in at less than £4.

But under Agenda for Change – a system that designates NHS jobs to set pay bands to ensure that non-medical staff are paid fairly according to the role’s value – the minimum pay in England and Northern Ireland was £7.31.

Scotland has pledged to pay all NHS apprentices £8.35 per hour, reports Nursing Times.


‘Scandal’ will perpetuate

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. 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.”