Healthcare support workers need consistent training, professional development and better workforce planning, academics have warned, ahead of the imminent publication of a major review.
Sunday Times journalist Camilla Cavendish is expected to publish the findings of her independent review into the training and support of HCAs later this week. She is expected to recommend a series of national measures to improve standards and training for support workers.
Ahead of the review’s publication, academics have shared the findings of their own analysis on HCA education with Nursing Times.
A six-point plan that should be adopted by the NHS to ensure patients receive the best care from HCAs has been drawn up jointly by the Institute of Vocational Learning and Workforce Research, based at Buckinghamshire New University, and the Royal College of Midwives.
It calls for greater consistency in the qualifications that support staff have access to and more “robust” workforce planning, including clear role boundaries and grading for HCAs. There also need to be improved continuing professional development for support worker roles and clearer career progression pathways from bands 1-4 into pre-registration nurse education.
Institute director Richard Griffin said more could be done to develop HCAs. Developments like the Cavendish Review “provide a great opportunity to address long-standing problems, such as lack of clarity and understanding about health support worker’s roles”, he said.
RCM chief executive Cathy Warwick added: “The NHS must ensure all its staff have the right knowledge, values and skills to deliver safe, compassionate and effective care. Support workers are an integral part of the workforce and must be well-educated and developed.”
Following the care failings identified at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, there have been renewed calls to improve both the training and regulation of HCAs.
In his public inquiry report on Mid Staffordshire, Robert Francis QC recommended that a register of HCAs be created, as well as a national code of conduct, training standards and a distinguishable uniform.
Training standards and a code of conduct have subsequently been published by Skills for Health. But ministers have consistently rejected mandatory HCA regulation, despite calls from Unison and the Royal College of Nursing.
Ministers have effectively blocked Ms Cavendish from making recommendations on regulation by not including it in the terms of reference for review.
RCN head of policy Howard Catton said: “We know that the terms of reference for this review prevent Cavendish from recommending mandatory regulation – that is a shame.”
But he said the review was still a “decisive moment” for HCAs. “[It] ends the invisibility and neglect of this vital workforce and unambiguously recognises the contribution these staff, in their hundreds of thousands, make to patient care on a daily basis,” he said.
Ms Cavendish is expected to focus on areas such as recruitment and training, support and supervision, and public confidence and assurance.
Mr Catton added that the RCN hoped the review would include proposals on how HCAs should interact with registered nurses, as well as improving their education and support.
Head of nursing at Unison, Gail Adams said she hoped the review would address the “inconsistency in training and staff experience”.
“I hope she will recognise the vital importance this amazing group of staff play in delivering care to some of the most vulnerable in our society,” she said. “If we don’t invest in our staff patient care suffers.”
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