Healthcare assistants are being expected to do the work of registered nurses without adequate training or proper supervision, according to survey results released by a union.
Nearly two thirds of support workers who responded to the survey – 63% – reported that they were being left to care for patients without enough support from doctors and nurses.
“It’s clear the pressures on them to act as nurse substitutes have increased over the winter”
A knock-on effect of this was indicated by 39% of the HCAs saying they did not feel confident that those they were caring for were safe.
The findings are based on a Unison survey of nearly 2,000 HCAs across the UK, with the majority working in hospitals, as well as in mental health, community settings and GP practices.
Around half said they had not received adequate training for performing tasks such as dressing the wounds of patients, giving out medication and changing stoma bags.
The results reflect previous findings from earlier surveys of support workers carried out by Unison.
The union, which held its annual health conference in Brighton this week, also said the findings highlighted how nurse staff shortages were to blame for 74% of HCAs having to take on extra work.
HCAs said the situation had been worse this winter just gone, compared to the year before, with 57% picking up extra work due to nursing or clinical staff shortages.
“We don’t even have time to do our core responsibilities properly, it’s very stressful”
In addition, 41% said they were asked to carry out tasks without adequate training more often than last winter and 37% were asked to perform tasks without supervision more frequently in 2017-18.
On the back of the survey results, Unison said it was calling on the government to address staffing issues so that HCAs felt “properly supported and patients received the care they deserve”.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton said: “Healthcare assistants are being left to fill staffing gaps and do vital tasks without recognition or reward. It’s bad for them and bad for patients.
“It is important these staff receive training for all the extra responsibilities they’re expected to take on,” she said.
“It’s clear the pressures on them to act as nurse substitutes have increased over the winter,” she said. “The government needs to show they value healthcare assistants by investing in their training.”
“Trusts are trying to make use of HCAs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can put patients at risk”
A summary of the survey findings, published by the union this evening, also featured anonymous case studies from HCAs.
Nicole, 33, from Greater Manchester, said: “On my first day I was shown how to do tasks like taking pulses and blood pressure by another HCA.
“They said they’d never been properly trained how to do it and weren’t really sure if they were doing it properly,” she said. “HCAs are doing ECGs and taking bloods – that’s a lot of responsibility.”
Meanwhile, Janet, 40, a band 3 maternity support officer from Croydon, said: “Trusts are trying to make use of HCAs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can put patients at risk.
“There is a divide at the trust I work for between the people that have worked there a long time and those of us that are newer to the job,” she said. “People who have been in the job longer have received different training that doesn’t cover everything we’re expected to do these days.
sara gorton for story
“Since I started two years ago, there’s more pressure on us, and we’re taking on more responsibilities,” she said.
Graham, 51, from Bradford said: “There is a lot of pressure from understaffing. I work in a dementia ward. The ratio of patients to staff is very high.
“Sometimes you wonder why patients are being admitted without due regard for the number of staff,” he said. “We don’t even have time to do our core responsibilities properly, it’s very stressful.”
More news from the Unison annual health conference:
- Healthcare staff to press government and trusts for ‘vital’ CPD funds
- Safe staffing studies ‘needed to reveal scale of problem’ in community
- Unison starts NHS pay consultation with call to accept deal
- Sharp spike in number of physical assaults on NHS staff
- NHS spending millions on private staff outsourcing, claims union