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News article

Boost for regional laboratory testing capacity with NHS degree apprenticeships

Published: 15 May 2020

Female lab worker in a hospital setting

Alexandra Ellwood who is now conducting Covid-19 virus testing just months after graduating

The first cohort of Healthcare Science degree apprentices are currently working in local NHS trusts in York and Hull as medical lab assistants (MLA). They will studying the degree programme at York St John University and complete their IBMS (Institute of Biomedical Science) Registration Portfolio.

This accredited training route will allow apprenticeship graduates to carry out sample testing in all Pathology disciplines, including Covid – 19, helping the NHS to develop the capacity of its workforce, at a time when these skills are most needed. They will continue to work for the NHS in combination with part-time studies at York St John University, eventually graduating with an Applied Biomedical Science degree.   

As a further boost to NHS capacity, several York St John students who completed their IBMS Registration Portfolio last year during placements at York hospital, have been asked to go on an emergency HCPC (Health and Care Professions Council) register to allow them to practice immediately whilst completing their studies. 

Alexandra Ellwood is a graduate from the Biomedical Science programme at York St John. She is now conducting Covid-19 virus testing at James Cook Hospital in Middlesborough, just months after leaving the University.  

Alex says there is currently unprecedented demand for skills like hersOnce I’d completed my degree I was employed as a Biomedical Scientist in the same laboratory as I did my placement. I was hoping to be in a fast paced, ever changing field, but never did I think I would play such a key role during a global pandemic at the age of 23. It has been eye opening and so interesting but at the same time so scary seeing how widespread the infection has been.”  

Since the COVID19 pandemic we have been doing 24/7 PCR testing to diagnose patients with the infection. We were one of the first NHS laboratories in the North East to begin testing for the virus and it has been very stressful and hard work to achieve fast and reliable results. Every day is so different, so interesting and so challenging. I feel like my work is making a difference and now more than ever I have a huge sense of pride of what I do. 

The degree apprenticeships programme has been developed in response to local need, based on discussions with local NHS Trust laboratory managers. The ‘earn and learn’ model supports staff retention and recruitment in NHS laboratories. It will allow the career progression of local healthcare workers and ensure that their skills benefit the region too.    

Associate Head: Biosciences from the School of Science Technology and Health at York St John, Dr Sue Jones said: “This NHS apprenticeship underpins the university’s mission statement to advance knowledge, promote understanding and create educational opportunities for all. Offering this degree apprenticeship route for local NHS Trust employees, in addition to our Laboratory Science degree apprenticeship for local industry employees, demonstrates our commitment to be a partner of choice and anchor institution in the region. Through this partnership with local NHS Trusts to train Biomedical Scientists, we are promoting access to and participation in degree level training. This NHS apprenticeship directly supports our local NHS Healthcare provision through training local employees to gain the skills and competencies needed to become Biomedical Scientists. They work in the local area and will study in York to support workforce planning and resolve the recruitment issues identified in the Yorkshire and Humber region.”  

Joanna Andrew, Laboratory Medicine Manager (designate), York & Scarborough Hospitals said: “It is essential that the local Trusts have a training route that supports existing staff to develop into Biomedical Scientists roles. It is particularly difficult to recruit biomedical scientists to work in Scarborough, but also York due to the high cost of housing. We have many staff who want to work and stay in in their home towns, who just need the opportunity to gain the right qualifications. Our strategy is to ensure we make the best use of the levy by growing our own practitioners for the workforce.”  

This is the latest in York St John University’s expanding portfolio of degree apprenticeships. The University works with employers to co-design a learning programme that best fits the needs of the industry. More about degree apprenticeships here


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