Baroness Emerton has withdrawn an amendment to the health bill, which would have brought in statutory regulation for healthcare assistants, to the disappointment of nursing unions.
The amendment was debated yesterday in the House of Lords, where the bill is currently at the report stage.
Crossbench peer and former NHS chief nursing officer Baroness Emerton had tabled measures to regulate “health care support workers” in England.
Her amendment would have brought HCAs under the supervision of the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The amendement defined a healthcare support worker as “an individual whose work is routinely delegated to them by a registered nurse or midwife or has a qualification in health and social care at level one (or higher) of the Qualifications and Credit Framework, in England”.
Despite widespread support among peers for the amendment, health minister Earl Howe said he was unconvinced by the need for mandatory regulation.
The government has previously rejected such a move on grounds of cost and is instead proposing a voluntary register for HCAs, along with standardised training and a code of conduct for HCAs.
Earl Howe told peers that the voluntary register would be reviewed after three years. Statutory regulation will be reconsidered as part of the review, he said.
In response, Baroness Emerton said she would withdraw the amendment “for today” and that she would carefully consider the government’s proposals.
Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have consistently called for mandatory HCA regulation.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “We genuinely believe that a voluntary code does not go far enough.
“While the announcement to develop standardised training and a code of conduct is welcomed, we feel that the decision to review the need for mandatory regulation is effectively kicking the issue into the long grass and will not address the pressing issues of patient safety.
“These now need to be considered as a matter of urgency, not in three years’ time,” he added.
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said it was “disappointing” Baroness Emerton had withdrawn her amendment.
“Unison has campaigned long and hard for compulsory registration,” she said. “It is about time that the government recognised the vital role they play in the day to day care of patients and ensured that they had the necessary training and recognition.
Ms Adams reiterated Unison’s view that the Health Professions Council was best placed to regulated health and social care workers, rather than the NMC.
Skills for Health is due to begin work in April on national minimum training standards and a code of conduct for healthcare support workers.