Health Education England has launched a major consultation on ways to develop band 1 to 4 NHS staff, including increasing the number of healthcare assistants that move into nursing.
The Talent for Care document, which calls for the views of nurses and other healthcare professionals, highlights the plight of low-paid support workers, with wide variations in training opportunities across the country.
It also says there is a “mismatch” between the training and support NHS organisations claim to offer and the experiences of staff on the ground, which has contributed to “some serious failures in care”.
Feedback from the consultation will help create a national strategy for bands 1 to 4, which will include minimum training standards for HCAs, the development of formal career paths into band 5 posts and beyond, and more opportunities to access registered training courses like nursing.
Health Education Wessex and Health Education South London will be taking the lead on plans to support the progression of HCAs into nursing.
According to Health Education England, band 1 to 4 staff make up about 40% of the NHS’s 1.3 million workforce and are responsible for about 60% of direct patient contact.
However, this group, which includes clinical support workers and nurse associate practitioners, only receive around 5% of the national training and education budget.
Health Education England said it wanted to see an increase in the proportion spent on band 1 to 4 staff of 1% each year over five years.
Extra funding would also be sought from sources including the EU, trusts, local enterprise partnerships and via joint work with organisations, such as the National Skills Academy for Health.
Health Education England is staging four regional events to discuss the Talent for Care strategy. The closing date for feedback is 24 March.
In July last year a government commissioned review has recommended that all HCAs should complete a “Certificate of Fundamental Care” before they can look after patients unsupervised.
The review, which was carried out by the Sunday Times journalist Camilla Cavendish, also said HCAs who completed the certificate should be allowed to use the term “nursing assistant”.
The idea was backed by ministers and Health Education England has been asked to lead its development.
A recent investigation found a quarter of trusts still allowed HCAs to start work on the wards without undergoing any training for the job, as reported by Nursing Times earlier this month.
All hospital trusts in England were asked how many hours training their HCAs had done before their first shift. Of the 104 that responded, 26 said HCAs were not required to have any formal training before starting.
Senior nursing figures described the finding as “shocking” and “worrying”, coming a year after the Francis report highlighted the impact of poorly trained, unregistered nursing staff on patient care.