Almost 40% of healthcare assistants say they have not received the training necessary to provide the care they are expected to deliver, according to a new report published today.
In addition, around a quarter of HCAs said they were “often” or “sometimes” asked to do things beyond their competence – including giving patients medication – stated the report from the union Unison.
“[HCAs] are essentially doing jobs previously done by nurses yet this is neither reflected in their pay nor in their career opportunities”
Meanwhile, in the last year, 44% of HCAs have “fairly” or “very seriously” considered leaving their job, mostly due to either work pressure or feeling undervalued by their employer.
The union, which surveyed nearly 2,300 HCAs across the UK working in primary and secondary care, said the report showed HCAs working in the NHS were often filling in for nurses due to staffing shortages.
It said those working in the assistant role were being used as “nursing on the cheap” and were “undervalued, increasingly overworked and not getting the support they need at work”.
The union called for national standards and role responsibilities for HCAs to be introduced by the government, as well as a review of their pay and options for career progression.
It criticised the government for focusing on creating the new nursing associate role – designed to sit between HCAs and registered nurses – instead of investing in the entire HCA workforce.
Of the 39% of survey respondents who said they had not received training to do their current job, the most common tasks they wanted extra training in were cannulation, phlebotomy, catheterisation, dementia care, venepuncture, carrying out ECGs and clinical observations.
“Healthcare assistants are undervalued, increasingly overworked and not getting the support they need at work”
Unison said, in particular, it had a “real concern” that training was not being provided for clinical observations, when the survey had also revealed such tasks were the most common daily task for HCAs.
It was also worrying that only 58% of respondents to the survey said they were confident that a concern they raised about patient care would be listened to and acted upon, said the union.
“It seems likely that, for many, this is a damaging consequence of the general theme running through the survey of feeling undervalued and disrespected,” said the report, called Care on the Cheap: A Unison survey of clinical support workers.
The vast majority of respondents – 85% – also said they believed support workers should be regulated by an external regulatory body, similar to nurses and doctors.
Healthcare assistants used as ‘nurses on the cheap’
Sara Gorton, Unison’s deputy head of health, said: “Healthcare assistants are undervalued, increasingly overworked and not getting the support they need at work.
“Their responsibilities have increased massively – from feeding patients to now carrying out skilled medical procedures,” she said. “They are essentially doing jobs previously done by nurses yet this is neither reflected in their pay nor in their career opportunities, so they’re struggling to make ends meet.
“Many could earn more stacking supermarket shelves than they can looking after patients. It’s nursing on the cheap and patients ultimately suffer as a result,” she added.