The extent to which employers are using a set of 15 voluntary standards to train health care assistants is to be investigated in a new government-commissioned study.
The care certificate, developed by national workforce and training agencies Health Education England, Skills for Care and Skills for Health, was designed to provide minimum standards for induction training for non-regulated support workers in NHS and social care organisations.
They cover basic areas such as fluids and nutrition, privacy and dignity, patient handling, and infection prevention and it is suggested HCAs receive training within their first 12 weeks with an employer.
The certificate was introduced from April 2015, at the same time the Care Quality Commission began assessing its use during inspections, but is not mandatory.
“[The study] is more about how [the certificate] is being implemented…rather than its effectiveness in terms of improving patient outcomes”
Dr Louise Thomson
Academics at the University of Nottingham, who are leading the 18-month national study, are investigating whether or not employers are using the set of training standards and what factors are either helping or stopping NHS, social care and domiciliary care organisations from implementing it.
They also want to see how far it is being used as a career development tool and whether it encourages staff to change jobs, or helps organisations to hold on to them.
However they will not be looking at what impact the standards have had on patient care.
A total of 400 organisations will be surveyed, with nine providing more detailed accounts of how they are deploying the certificate, as well as the views of health care support workers. Focus groups including patients will also feature as part of the work.
The numbers of different types of employers selected for the study will be representative, meaning just over half will be social care, around 15% will be health and just over a quarter domiciliary care organisations.
“One of the things the Department of Health has asked us to look at is… whether the care certificate enables [HCAs] to see caring as a career path”
Dr Louise Thomson
Dr Louise Thomson, the study’s principal investigator, said: “In the telephone survey we are trying to find out how many are implementing the certificate, are they doing it internally or externally and what resources they are using – booklets or online resources?”
“Then when we do the case studies we will look more in depth at how care staff feel about the certificate, what managers and care organisations think, and the challenges.”
Dr Thomson said that although the researchers were talking to people receiving care, the study would not focus on patient outcomes.
“It’s more about how it’s being implemented and whether there are consistent approaches rather than its effectiveness in terms of improving patient outcomes or patient care,” she said.
When asked whether they would ask how much it cost to introduce the training standards and whether employers and support staff would like to see it become a mandatory requirement, the researchers said they believed these issues would be raised by participants during the survey and case studies.
”[The care certificate] could lead to increased turnover on the one hand but could lead to greater staff retention on the other”
Dr Elaine Argyle
Another element of the study would be to see how far the care certificate could be used as a career development tool.
“One of the things the Department of Health has asked us to look at is about career development for care workers and whether the care certificate enables them to see caring as a career path and whether it allows them to change jobs more effectively and increase their progression,” said Dr Thomson.
However, senior research fellow Dr Elaine Argyle, who is also working on the study, added: “It could lead to increased turnover on the one hand but could lead to greater staff retention on the other. That’s a question that we’re going to try and address.”
The study, funded by the Department of Health Policy Research Programme, is due to be completed by autumn 2017, with results published shortly after.