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Trust under fire for using non-clinical staff to feed older patients

The Royal College of Nursing has criticised a trust in Yorkshire for asking porters and cleaners to feed older patients due to a shortage of nurses.

Managers at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust are asking back-office staff to spend two hours of their working week assisting nurses with basic duties on wards.

The idea has been adopted at the trust’s three hospitals in Wakefield, Dewsbury and Pontefract. The trust recently cut more than 60 nursing posts in order to save £20m.

Nursing leaders have expressed “huge reservations” about the move, warning that patients will not be properly cared for because the staff involved do not have clinical training.

But managers at Mid Yorkshire insist their plans will help provide patients with the “best possible care” and give non-medical staff the chance to gain more experience of working directly with patients.

Last week’s high profile report by NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh identified clinical staff shortages at all 14 trusts with high mortality rates that his team investigated.

Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “I have huge reservations. Asking people employed as porters to work on wards is no substitute for properly trained staff.

“It will lead to unsatisfactory care and poor patient experience. People will not know what they are meant to be doing,” he said.

“Surely these people are doing relevant work for the trust so how can they be released to care for the elderly if they are needed in these roles?

“It’s not a long-term solution, especially given the huge rise in numbers of older people,” he added.

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Readers' comments (33)

  • Good grief......next thing they will be asking the patient's family and friends to help feed them....what is the NHS coming to....

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  • Can't be worse than some of the dismal nurses I have seen...

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  • Isn't it better that a patient is fed and watered if the alternative meant that due to staffing issues a patient missed vital nourishment and fluid.

    I imagine that if asked to document intake, porters and cleaners would do just as good a job if not better than some of the trained and HCA's I have seen.
    Desperate times call for desperate measures.

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  • It's a poor do when to save money nurses cut backs are so bad that they are asking cleaners to feed patients. I was just going to say I wouldn't like to be fed by a cleaner because you don't know what they have just been cleaning and yet cleaners probably have less germs on them than nurses who may have just wiped someone's bum before feeding another patient. Lets be honest it's the thought of it isn't it? and yet its perfectly acceptable for a nurse to feed a patient who has just cleaned the most yuckiest of wounds. Really in an ideal world there should be staff whose sole job it is to feed and water patients on a regular basis. But you must be joking, they won't pay for that. They would rather just cut back and cut back and then criticize when things aren't getting done. I was speaking to a nurse last night who is retiring next year after 37 years hard service and she has actually calculated how many more shifts she will be working before she leaves!! That just says it all doesn't it.

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  • I am currently unemployed, and trying to get back to work following a period of nursing my husband. I still have up to date registration, and have all the other relevent updates required to nurse, I offered my local trust my services for free, so i could get back in the environment and hopefully get a job. I had some patronising person tell me that even though i wasnt working as a trained nurse I could still be held accountable ( no thank you or gratitude mentioned even though i was giving my time and skill for free) And yes I am aware i am responsible for my actions! At the time we had a major outbreak of Nora virus, so you would think they would be grateful of all the help they could get! The final exchange was that maybe i may need to do the return to nursing course! (I dont as i already have current and valid NMC registration) And i was also informed Volunteers dont have patient contact.........I ask you! Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth........I didnt expect to be running the ward and giving drugs out, but maybe taking patient obs and feeding patients and even assisting in personal care, Escorting patients to and from procedures all things that are time consumming and take nurses off the ward. Im sure there must have been retired trained nurses that have offered their services and probably had the same experience. Wake up trusts and embrace all the skilled help you could potentially have.

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  • Well done Mid Yorks Hospiatls Trust
    This gives the right message that all staff are employed for one reason only - the patients they serve.How could anybody have an issue with this initiative
    I applaud those who have organised this

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  • What next??????This is disgusting. What if some patients choke. Would they know what to do? Did they receive training? Did patients' consent? Were families consulted? This is a sure sign that patient care seems to be a phenomenon rather than a prerequisite in hospital care

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  • Anon 11.37pm

    So when Doreen from general office kills the patient with a poor swallow who is to blame? Doreen? The idiot who came up with this idea? Or the Nurse-in-charge?

    Whilst these porters are feeding patients, who is doing the portering? Will the Chief Exec be bundling the dead of to Rose Cottage? Then, who'll be doing the Chief Execs job? A trained monkey!

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  • Firstly, animals are "fed and watered" - patients are asssited to eat and drink.
    Just when the focus is on HCAs having appropriate training to do their role it is deemed ok that cleaners and porters, who have their own important jobs to do for the "the patients they serve", are comepetant to provide patient care. let the chief nurse and nursing managers leave their job for 2 hours a week if it is that important to save money. At least they have a nursing qualification.
    The chief exec should at least be honest and state that this is a money saving exercise

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  • People are only attempting to sound shocked because it's the porters and domestic staff involved, how about if it were the Chaplain no-one would bat an eye lid then would they, or the managers - especially the nurse managers, everyone would think it was a great idea 'part of their job' 'get them back on the floor in the real world'. In fact why don't they ask the 'front office' management, medical students and therapy assistants to help out, isn't that what we are all here for.
    If staff are being asked to help out on the wards they need training first, no-one has suggested otherwise have they?

    Like someone else has said, cleaners feeding patients sounds a bit gross but then so is nurses cleaning bottoms then serving food which has been the norm for years.

    One of the govt knee-jerk initiatives was to ask friends and families to come in and help with personal care, feeding etc. What training were they going to receive?

    They could of course just employ more staff, think about employing staff specifically to help patients eat and drink and treat volunteers with a bit more respect.

    What has happened to the good old British 'blitz' spirit?

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  • anon 1.29 - families consent to what?
    why can't back-office staff help, why should patients choke - do you think that they are so stupid and uncaring that they will just stand there shovelling food down poor old soul?
    do you have to be a nurse to help patients eat and drink? goodness me, some of us even have our own children and families who we help feed, drink, clean and keep safe.

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  • As a nurse I help the porters when transferring patients to theatre, I move beds and furniture around the ward, it's called helping out and supporting our colleagues.
    If a porter, cleaner, or chief bottle washer wants to help serve food and drinks then give them the opportunity, you never know they might enjoy it. The patients might enjoy it too - god forbid someone comes up with an idea that might work.
    Yes, it's about saving money and obviously the front office staff should also be expected to help out.

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  • After reading some of these comments, if I were a porter or a cleaner I would tell nurses to shove it up their backsides. We are supposed to treat our colleagues with respect, that includes non-clinical staff, what is wrong with you people.

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  • Anonymous | 24-Jul-2013 11:45 am

    If a porter or cleaner is able to carry out a competent assessment of a patient's swallowing status, his/her nutritional needs and manage complicated problems associated with dysphagia and accept the full consequences of all their nutrition related practises then I'm sure they can understandably tell nurses to shove it up their backsides. Until then, perhaps you should..........

    What is wrong with you?

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  • tinkerbell

    perhaps the heat is getting to us all, but not only on this post but on others there are quite a few of us telling each other to shove it up each others derrieres.

    I was once told by a patient to shove the meds trolley up my ae*e but I said it was rather big and I didn't think I would be able to.

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  • Maybe if the office staff did some of the hideous amount of paperwork we have, perhaps we would have time to feed the patients ourselves!!!

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  • little boy was taken to the zoo. one of the enclosures had a notice with wet paint pinned to the railings. the little boy went rather glum and silent. when asked what was wrong he replied that he had always thought the stripes on the zebras were permanent!

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  • anon 3.00 - do you think all the existing staff who help patients eat and drink have the skills you describe?

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  • Families should be more involved. In Spain and other countries it IS the families who provide personal care to patients and not the nurses. How many times have we read, I was visiting my relative when the meals/drinks were served and no-one came to help? Why didn't that relative do something to help the patient rather than wait to complain ?

    If a patient has dysphagia then the assistance has to be from a suitably qualified person, but there is no reason why other patients cannot be helped by whoever is available.

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  • Anonymous | 24-Jul-2013 6:41 pm

    Yes. It happens where I work.

    It may not happen where you work. In which case, perhaps you should reflect upon that and whether or not you are happy with that. That is for you to decide. I don't know where you work or even whether or not you are a nurse.

    If we aspire for our patients to be looked after by any Tom, Dick or Harry because there aren't enough properly trained staff to do it, (remember, this is money saving and nothing to do with patient care) then it reinforces the resigned, low aspirational profession Nursing has become.

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