Government rules are blocking NHS trusts from accessing the apprenticeship levy funds, an NHS Improvement director has said.

Caroline Corrigan, national director of people strategy at NHS Improvement, told the Managers in Partnership summit that NHS employers can only access £20m of the £200m available funding because “they can’t get through the rules”.

“I don’t hear anybody saying that apprenticeships are not the future,” Ms Corrigan said. “It is the opposite and we need to do even more.”

Ms Corrigan said some trusts had used their apprenticeship levy money, despite difficulties with the rules, but others could do more.

“It is a rules based issue, not employers saying it isn’t the future,” she said. She did not specify which rules were troubling trusts.

Ms Corrigan also said the NHS long term plan needed to “stay at a level that can talk to everybody” to engage with the non-clinical workforce.

“It is a very dynamic process. There are many reasons why there is often a focus on the clinical professions, not least of which is the gap in nurses.”

Ms Corrigan told delegates she expected the “notion of the team” to be part of the long term plan and regional workforce directors were going to be “absolutely pivotal”.

“A good place to start is the regional focus on staff,” Ms Corrigan said. “People will tell us that it has been difficult [because of] competing narratives and priorities of the workforce agenda.”

Ms Corrigan told delegates engagement as part of the long term plan had shown people “want to see a big change” and “an increase in the NHS workforce”.

“Because we can’t grow our staff we need to do better about international recruitment in the short and medium term. We don’t see a home grown supply fast enough.”

Retaining existing staff and improving health and wellbeing of staff needed to be considered in the plan, she said.

“People are often talking to us about CPD and the careers paths people had ten years ago are not the career paths of the future,” she added.

She said while removing the nursing bursary has not helped workforce shortages, people were also still applying for nursing courses and not getting in.

“The conversation for me has been for universities in particular. Why are we not expanding the numbers and why are universities not responding to that?”

From HSJ