Hello, my name is Baz Rodger and I am the head of radiotherapy at the Leeds Cancer Centre. In February 2018, Gemma Burke (Radiotherapy and Oncology degree course leader at Sheffield Hallam University), a group of 16 radiotherapy employers, three other higher education institutes (HEIs) and I decided to create an apprenticeship for therapeutic radiography.
We are all passionate about providing excellent patient care and recognise the fundamental role therapeutic radiographers have in delivering this. We were all aware of the impending recruitment crisis and knew the withdrawal of bursaries and introduction of fee payment would only make matters worse. We want to ensure we have a capable workforce to treat patients now and in the future, and considered an apprenticeship could be part of the solution.
To develop new apprenticeship standards, it is a requirement to establish a ‘trailblazer group’, which is what we became. When Gemma asked for a volunteer to chair the group, I immediately agreed. Now, I’ll admit to having a history of agreeing to things before fully understanding what they are! Some of my richest experiences in life have been because I said yes first, then asked later: ‘what exactly have I agreed to?!’ Thanks to saying yes first, I’ve mountaineered in some incredible and remote locations across the world and signed up for big sporting challenges (well, big for me) before considering the consequences, and I’ve never once regretted it. I am pleased to say this also applies to being the trailblazer chair for the therapeutic radiographer apprenticeship. However, perhaps if I had known the huge undertaking I was facing on top of the day job, I may not have so readily agreed.
An apprenticeship combines work and study by mixing on-the-job training (for example, with an NHS trust) with studying for a formal qualification. The apprentice can gain the knowledge, skills and behaviours needed to succeed in their chosen career. The creation of an apprenticeship can be split into three stages:
Although these three stages may sound straightforward, they are made up of multiple complex milestones requiring lots of hard work to deliver. Thankfully, we had a great trailblazer group to collaborate with. One of the biggest joys of being the chair has been meeting new people and working towards our goal of creating an apprenticeship. Our group succeeded in delivering a lot of work in a relatively short time, while still having some laughs along the way.
So where are we now? The trailblazer group is responsible for delivering all three stages. We have submitted stage three and I am nervously awaiting approval* from the Institute for Apprenticeships (IfA). Once that is granted, the work of the trailblazer group is done and the apprenticeship can be picked up by HEIs, who can write a curriculum against the standard to deliver the training required in collaboration with the employers. Employers can then select which HEI they wish to work with.
I have learnt that developing an apprenticeship is a fine balance between describing the professional competence required and sticking to the IfA mandate on simple language and terminology. As the trailblazer chair, there were certain areas that I was not willing to compromise on:
Patient centred – a large focus of the training must be on patient care and communication skills alongside the technical skills. This is why the EPA contains a patient assessment module, which can be delivered using a former patient with experience of having radiotherapy.
Timely – all three stages of apprenticeship design must be delivered within one year. Our first meeting was in February 2018 and we submitted our final stage (EPA) in January 2019… so just in time!
Deliverable nationally – to support this, I ensured the trailblazer group was as representative as possible, with a good mix of both large and small departments and HEIs with a broad geographical spread.
Collaborative – the IfA describes apprenticeships as ‘employer-led’ and, while I support the concept in principle, I believe it MUST be a close collaboration between HEIs and departments.
Lastly, we had to make this truly fit for purpose. We must not let our apprentices down: they are committing three years of their lives to this, so we have to deliver and give them the best possible training.
I believe we have managed to meet the IfA mandate and develop something that is both fit for purpose and has longevity. Hopefully, this initiative will help address the severe recruitment crisis and see more people enter training to become therapeutic radiographers.
I could not have led the trailblazer group without the support of Gemma Burke, who put in considerable effort at each stage, or Rosemarie Simpson from Skills for Health, who kept us on track with her astounding project management skills. We also had support from professional bodies SCoR, HCPC and the IfA, without whom we could not have delivered the apprenticeship.
If you want to find out more information about the apprenticeship standard, the final published documents are available on the IfA website here. The EPA will be available via the same link soon.
*BREAKING NEWS – we have just received news of conditional approval!