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Hillcroft Case Study

Steve Wood from The University of Cumbria spoke to Louise (employer) and Michelle (employee) from Hillcroft Nursing Home about their experiences on the Assistant Practitioner in Health & Social Care Apprenticeship, as both employer and employee.

Hello Louise, tell us about your business…

Hillcroft are a group of care homes in the Lancaster and Morecambe area. Established in 1991 with our first home in Carnforth, the group has expanded over the years to a total of six nursing homes employing over 350 dedicated colleagues. Despite our size, we are still privately owned and operate as a family business. We live by our values of Caring, Respectful and Committed at Hillcroft; respectful of each other and caring and committed to our purpose of enriching the lives of our residents. Hillcroft are committed to the personal and professional development of our teams and have our own on-site training Academy to ensure we have an inspiring and stimulating environment to develop a community of talent.

What was it about the Assistant Healthcare Practitioner apprenticeship that interested you?

As a nursing home we are very concerned about the national nursing shortage and the impact that is having on our service. We welcomed the opportunity to develop our existing care staff to enable them to assist our qualified nurses in the delivery of nursing care, thereby helping to ease the burden on the nurses and at the same time providing formal career progression for our carers.

What was your first interaction with the University like?

Louise: This was the first time we had had any dealings with the University so we had no idea what to expect. The University were very helpful, providing us with information on the course, funding and the application process. We were a little late to the party and did not have long to get ourselves organised but we managed to enrol five apprentices on the first open cohort starting in May last year.

Michelle: When I first started at the University I found it daunting, as I did not feel that I had all the knowledge that I required, due to the fact that it was a whole new concept, that was new to the company and myself. But I soon learned that the support and information was there if I required it, from both Hillcroft and the University.

How have you been supported?

Louise: We are fortunate to have a dedicated training co-ordinator employed at our Training Academy, who has become our link person with the University. When we were recruiting for the second cohort starting in October last year, the University arranged for the Programme Lead to sit on the interview panel to assist in the selection process.

Michelle: I have always had the support and guidance from all my tutors: if there have been any concerns then I have been given the support that I need, from one-to-one meetings and support or emails. I cannot thank them enough. Hillcroft have given me so much support, my colleagues, nurse in charge, Matron, receptionist, directors and our trainer. I cannot express how much I appreciate the support to get where I am now.

What modules have you completed so far and what have you found the most interesting or stimulating?

Michelle: I have completed Foundations of Anatomy and Physiology, Negotiated Learning, Professional Development and Clinical Skills, and Introduction to Well Being.

Challenges that I have faced include knowing how to write in an academic way and how to relate theory to practice. And also getting around the minefield of ethics and how it can impact on day-to-day opinions.

Most of the lectures have been delivered with structure and have been informative. There have been occasions that when a relief tutor has gone over what was taught already. With it being a new course, it has not been structured in the best way for the students, but when concerns have been raised, they have been dealt with and rectified.

What the biggest or most important thing you have learned?

Michelle: I have learnt so much over the last year, but knowing the theory behind what I do has helped. Even if that can make me feel conflict between ethics, morals and my own feelings, I know the care that I provide in practice and the work I do at university all come together.

How has the programme benefitted you personally?

Michelle: The programme has benefited me more than I can sometimes express. Knowing that I will be going into a career that can help more people makes me feel proud. Knowing how much support I have from my work place and the University is great, but more importantly, knowing that I am doing this for my family and also getting their support.

Have you made changes to the way you do things in work?

Michelle: Doing the course has not changed how I work when it comes to caring for the ones I care for, but has given me a greater understanding of why I and everyone does what they do.

What impact has the Assistant Healthcare Practitioner Apprentice had on your business?

Louise: As a full levy payer we have used our levy to fund the training and thankfully all the administration of this has all been taken care of by the University. The most challenging aspect we have had to manage has been the day release as this was totally new to us, and we had to arrange backfill for several staff at once.

How has the programme benefited your business?

Louise: We are already benefitting from the development of our apprentices who are working in post as trainees alongside our nurses. Going forward, we see the introduction of this role as a key addition to our workforce, enhancing the care that we can provide for our residents.

Has your view changed on apprenticeships?

Louise: We had not had any experience with apprenticeships before and would probably have liked to have been better prepared for the first cohort, but now we are more than happy with the scheme and are confident that it will produce excellent practitioners to fill a much needed role.

What are your future plans for apprenticeships?

Louise: We are planning to enrol a further 2 Assistant Practitioner apprentices on the next cohort, and are hopeful that we will be able to join the first open cohort for Nurse Apprentices when this become available.

What would you say to anyone considering the Assistant Healthcare Practitioner Apprentice with the University of Cumbria?

Louise: This is a golden opportunity for those who want to progress their career but also stay in work and continue earning.

Michelle: If it was not for having this apprenticeship, I would have never been able to get to the level that I am now. Knowing that Hillcroft and the University can work together and give opportunities to myself and to others is overwhelming as it means that I can still do the job I love, support my family and progress in my own career and academic life.

What would you say to employers in your sector considering apprenticeships as a way to grow your business?

Louise: We need the skills in our workforce to enable us to continue delivering the highest quality of care. Apprenticeships are an excellent way to achieve this by allowing learning on the job combined with regular classroom teaching.

Any other comments?

Michelle: I would highly recommend doing this course, as it provides so many opportunities and gives so much support.
If Louise or Michelle can help you, contact Hillcroft at

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Healthcare Assistant Apprenticeship programme and how it can help you and your business contact us on

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