L4 Oral Heath Practitioners 2023Working in partnership, Health Education England (HEE) North East and North Cumbria, NECS and New College Durham (NCD) welcome their first cohort of oral health practitioner apprentices to the pilot programme.

Rachel Lish, Training Programme Director for Oral Health Improvement and Dental Care Professionals, says "dentistry is changing with a greater focus on prevention and how good oral health links with good systemic health. With the vision to successfully build a dental workforce of the future, the approach to developing dental nurses needed to adapt, inspiring the 'Oral Health Practitioner Apprenticeship'."

This apprenticeship aims to provide an opportunity for dental nurses to develop skills in line with their General Dental Council scope of practice, and to progress their careers, whilst helping to address local health inequalities in deprived groups, by training dental nurses to carry out both practice based oral health interventions and wider community based oral health promotion. 

"Looking to the future, it is envisaged that the oral health practitioner role could be embedded in a range of workplaces across the region, including GP practices, community pharmacies, residential care homes and early years settings. This apprenticeship is the next step in ensuring dentistry and oral health is integrated in all health, social care and education policies and practices to benefit communities across our region" says Vicky Adam, Programme Support Officer for Oral Health and Apprenticeships.

To facilitate this, an innovative approach to placements meant that apprentices are placed both in dental practice and an enhanced placement within a primary care network in the community; aiming to embed the oral health practitioner role in a clinical setting as well as engaging in multi-professional working across local communities.

HEE North East and North Cumbria, working in partnership with NECS, approached NCD to provide the accredited learning for apprentices due to their wide base of quality educators who can support apprentices and their ability to provide a diverse programme of learning including classroom based, virtual and multi-professional platforms.

Malcolm Smith, Postgraduate Dental Dean for the North East and N Cumrbia,who commissioned the scheme, says "The introduction of the Oral Health Practitioner apprenticeship is in line with the skills escalator model set out in the Advancing Dental Care Review Report, the recommendations of which are now being developed through Health Education England’s Dental Education Reform Programme (DERP). As well as enabling Dental Nurses to deliver more effective oral health advice to patients, the apprenticeship provides a route for this group to progress further in their career aspirations.

In addition, the HEE North East Oral Health Practitioner apprenticeship model provides placement opportunities to work in general medical practices and community pharmacies to further embed the message of the importance of oral health in general health more broadly across the healthcare sector and to patients."

The North East and North Cumbria (NENC) Flexible Apprenticeship Scheme (FAS) was created by the Integrated Care Board (ICB), in partnership with NECS. It is specifically designed to support employers by directly employing and managing individuals who wish to undertake an apprenticeship.

Working in partnership with HEE and NCD, FAS led on the recruitment of apprentices and hosts to the Oral Health Practitioner Apprenticeship programme, which has resulted in a match of six apprentices and hosts for the first cohort, all of which officially started their programme on 27 January 2023.

Almost all of the apprentices are placed with their previous employers as hosts for the duration of their 16 month Apprenticeship Programme. This has offered both the opportunity for existing staff to further develop their skills, knowledge and experience whilst supporting the practice to explore broadening their services to patients.

Peter Phillipps, Senior Project Manager for FAS, said "NECS are proud to be hosting the Flexible Apprenticeship Scheme on behalf of North East and North Cumbria ICB. We are working alongside the local health and care sectors to identify gaps in the workforce and to provide education, on-the-job experience and a step onto the ladder for future health and care professionals."

Joanne Ward, Oral Health Practitioner Apprentice, keeps in sight the vision of the programme, saying "I am extremely excited to begin this brand-new apprenticeship, working towards promotion of oral health in dental practice and community settings.

Using my knowledge, skills, and experience to give patients better understanding of the importance of oral health and how making small improvements can also benefit their general health in the long term. I am looking forward to working alongside dentist and doctors in the wider community."

Rachael Tate, Oral Health Practitioner Apprentice, praised the new opportunity: "I am excited to be a part of the new apprenticeship oral health practitioner. To be part of the first group to be taking in this new experience is going to be very exciting and rewarding.

As part of this I will be working in partnership with GP practices and dental practices to promote knowledge of good oral and systemic health."