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Pioneering a new route into advanced clinical practice

University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) and The Open University (OU) have partnered together to develop new Advanced Clinical Practitioners (ACPs) through flexible, online distance learning. 

Twelve experienced healthcare professionals who were looking to develop their practice as part of their role joined the Level 7 Advanced Clinical Practitioner Degree Apprenticeship in February 2021, with a similar number set to follow in their footsteps in February next year.

Joanne Smith is the Trust’s Education and Advanced Practice Lead within the Specialist Services Division and works with the Trust’s apprenticeship team across the whole advanced practice agenda.

“We already worked with a range of providers and have worked in the past with the OU on a pre-registration programme. We were exploring potential providers for the new apprenticeship. We have Advanced Clinical Practitioners across the whole organisation – 179 in the last count – working independently or as a team to support our services.”

“We recruit into vacancies and there are a lot of interest and applications for these roles. Staff have to be in a training Advanced Clinical Practitioner role to go on to the programme. A range of health professionals have accessed the apprenticeship programme.

The Trust works in partnership with the OU to deliver the apprenticeship, with the OU offering the academic side of the learning through tutor-supported online distance learning.

The apprenticeship programme (available in England only) incorporates a Non-Medical Prescribing module which, upon successful completion, enables apprentices to gain regulatory recognition as a non-medical prescriber within their scope of practice. Apprentices successfully completing the programme receive an MSc in Advanced Clinical Practice, which is available as a qualification in its own right across the four UK nations. The Non-Medical Prescribing module is also available across the four nations as a Postgraduate Certificate in Non-Medical Prescribing.

We work with traditional classroom-based universities in the region, but the flexibility with regard to numbers of starters with the OU was very attractive for us. Leaders and managers find that the OU study is more flexible than other providers. Apprentices really enjoy the dedicated study time that can be configured around shifts and service needs.

Joanne Smith, Education and Advanced Practice Lead, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust


“Apprentices know when they start the programme, they have one day a week, or 7.5 hours which counts towards their 20% off the job training” to study. They can add it up and take a week’s study at some point or take single days. It’s been a huge plus. The requirements are clear from the start The ACP and their line manager are able to manage the time requirements of the programme. The feedback that we’ve had from the clinical teams has been very, very positive.”

Joanne explained the benefits of having a new group of apprentices starting each year. “The 2021 cohort have formed a close network. As a Trust we can learn from the first year of the programme and prepare for the new intake, and if the 2022 cohort want to be put in contact with people that are on the programme nearly a year down the line, then we can facilitate that.”

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