Supported internships in the learning disability employment programme

What are supported internships?

Supported internships are a one-year work-based study programme, where young people spend the majority of their time based at an employer.

They provide an important step on the employment journey, helping young people aged 16 to 24 with an Education, Health and Care plan (EHCP) or another form of Special Educational Needs (SEN) support to get the skills they need for work so they can get into a job.

Paid employment for adults is a key determinant of good health, and the natural supports that come with employed status are paramount in enabling people to cope with the challenges they face as they go through adulthood.

The commitment in the NHS Long Term Plan

The NHS Long Term Plan says that: ‘We will continue to offer more opportunities for people with a learning disability and for people with autism. Supported Internship opportunities targeted at people with a learning disability and/or autism will increase by 2023/24, with at least half converted to paid employment over the first five years of the Long Term Plan. The number of NHS internship and employment programmes/sites delivered through ‘Project Search’ and ‘Project Choice’ will increase as will the number of NHS organisations making the Learning Disability Employment Programme Pledge.’

How is the NHS being helped to deliver supported internships?

An increasing number of NHS organisations are taking the Learning Disability Employment Programme (LDEP) Pledge, which sees them commit to taking action to help people into lasting employment. Supported internships are one of the ways that this action is delivered.

There are a range of supported internship programmes being delivered by NHS organisations and partners across the health system. Some organisations have their own schemes. However, the majority of NHS organisations work with one of the two main national providers of supported internship programmes in the NHS.

These two national providers are Health Education England’s Project Choice college and DFN Project SEARCH. Both national organisations offer a depth of experience of working with NHS organisations and provide an infrastructure which supports NHS organisations and individuals.

As at July 2021, Project Choice supported more than 150 young people across 31 NHS sites, with the aim of growing by 48 new placements each year from the 2022-23 academic year. As at July 2021, DFN Project SEARCH served 270 young adults a year across 36 NHS sites.

In addition, as part of the commitment to increasing supported internships and lasting employment in the NHS Long Term Plan, NHS England and Health Education England have each committed £210,000 to support 42 additional supported internship programmes through DFN Project SEARCH.

What difference do supported internships make?

What interns say:

“I was nervous but now I am confident, I have new friends, learnt new skills. I am happy here and enjoy coming every day.”
“I feel like an adult. I have travelled to work independently, done my job and travelled home independently – just like other workers. I’m so proud of myself, I want to keep working.”

What NHS organisations say:

“It has made us much more aware of how we communicate with people, and it has given a great boost to everyone in the department.” City Hospitals Sunderland NHSFT
“This has been one of the most inspiring and rewarding things we have ever done. The scheme doesn’t just impact on the interns, it changes the lives of their families and the people they work with.” Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust

How can more NHS organisations get involved in supported internships?

Project Choice and DFN Project SEARCH have slightly different regional bases and scope and method of operation. They will be directly approaching NHS organisations, particularly those that have taken the LDEP Pledge, to see how they can develop new supported internships at their sites.

NHS organisations with any further questions on the operation of supported internships in their area can contact either DFN Project SEARCH or Project Choice. If you have specific questions about the LDEP Pledge, please contact the national LDEP team at email: