NHS Employers director Dean Royles has urged “caution” over calls for the regulation of healthcare assistants, saying “you can’t regulate for a smile and a kind word”.
Mr Royles has written a comment piece for Nursing Times setting out his opposition to regulating HCAs, ahead of an expected debate on the issue in the House of Lords.
He said: “We must remember that regulation only ever considers minimum standards and the NHS must strive to achieve more than just the basics.”
Regulation could also have “unintended consequences”, he warned, as it might leave trusts unable to deploy staff flexibly to meet patients’ needs.
“We also need to be clear that regulation cannot capture the friendly tone of a doctor or the simple effort a nurse makes to ensure his or her patients are as comfortable as possible in their hospital beds,” Mr Royles said.
Unlike registered nurses, HCAs do not have to comply with a statutory code of conduct such as that produced by regulator the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
But following a wave of scandals allegedly involving HCAs there is growing pressure to introduce tighter regulation.
Mr Royles said HCAs have been “the backbone of the NHS” and remain “an essential part of the patient experience where care and compassion matter most”.
But, he argued: “You can’t regulate for a smile and a kind word”.
He added: “We would urge caution around the regulation of support workers until we are clear how this would benefit patient safety and care.”
Mr Royles’ views contradict those expressed by the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery.
However, the Department of Health has said it does not think statutory regulation is necessary and that a system of voluntary regulation could potentially be established instead.