Healthcare assistants are routinely taking on tasks traditionally performed by registered nurses, but are becoming less inclined to take professional qualifications, a survey by Unison has found.
The union’s biennial survey of HCAs asked for the first time about the jobs they carried out and found the most common task performed by HCAs was monitoring and recording patients’ observations (see box below).
Despite the apparent widening of the HCA role, almost 60 per cent of respondents said they should be restricted in the tasks and duties they could perform - suggesting assistants have concerns about being asked to perform tasks they are not trained to do.
Unison surveyed more than 1,000 HCAs during July and August this year. The findings revealed that fewer HCAs now plan to start professional training than two years ago, when the survey was last carried out.
In 2008, 41 per cent of survey participants said they planned to start professional training. By 2010, this had dropped to just 33 per cent.
Unison said two “pathways” should be created, one for HCAs who want to progress their career through training, and one for those who do not.
Survey participants said their most common daily tasks included many “direct nursing” tasks. These included tasks that are often those most visible to patients, such as bed making, distributing food, and bathing and feeding patients.
HCAs also reported carrying out complex dressings, taking electrocardiogram readings, and inserting cannulas and female catheters.
Ian Kessler, a lecturer in employee relations at Oxford University’s Said Business School, coauthored Department of Health-funded research into the role of healthcare assistants. Its findings were revealed in a special HCA issue of Nursing Times this summer.
He said: “This tends to confirm our research that HCAs are not only carrying out direct care, such as making beds and feeding patients, but that they have started to move into what could be called low level technical tasks such as observations and taking blood samples.”
The Unison survey found the tasks that HCAs most enjoyed included taking blood samples, bathing patients, monitoring, and carrying out simple dressings.
Mr Kessler said the fact that bathing patients was ranked the most enjoyable task by HCAs demonstrated they valued direct contact with patients. But he added that the fact they also favoured some complex care tasks suggested that many of them were keen to develop their skills and careers further.
Tasks carried out by HCAs on a daily basis:
- Monitoring/observations 70%
- Making beds 60%
- Distributing meals 55%
- Keeping stores stocked 42%
- Bathing patients 36%
- Feeding patients 32%
- Escorting patients to theatre/other wards 25%
- Simple dressings 23%
- Taking blood 18%