Nursing unions have warned the government against trying to kick the issue of healthcare assistant regulation into the “long grass”, as yet another review of support workers is set to take place.
The Department of Health last week confirmed to Nursing Times it had asked Sunday Times journalist Camilla Cavendish to review HCA training and support. Ms Cavendish chaired the chief nursing officer’s annual conference in December, the theme of which was “our culture of compassionate care”.
But unions said the review should not deflect from recommendations that HCAs be subject to statutory regulation – made by the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry report this month. They also noted that the review appeared to duplicate work recently completed on HCA training and standards.
The healthcare sector’s skills council, Skills for Health, has just produced national minimum training standards and a code of conduct for support workers in health and social care settings. The work was done at the request of the government and was submitted to the Department of Health at the end of January – but has yet to be published or formally accepted by ministers.
Royal College of Nursing policy director Howard Catton said: “That work has been done and I think people will understandably be concerned that [the latest review] may be an attempt to move it into the long grass.”
He said the new review could be an attempt by the government to find a “middle way” between mandatory regulation favoured by unions and the voluntary system preferred by the government.
Last week health minister Norman Lamb launched the Professional Standards Authority Accredited Voluntary Registers Scheme, which could eventually pave the way for a voluntary register for HCAs.
During a debate in the Lords last Wednesday, health minister Earl Howe confirmed the government’s position was still to prefer voluntary regulation, but said all of Mr Francis’s recommendations would be considered “extremely carefully”.
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams suggested the new review was the result of a “slight level of panic” in the DH following the publication of Robert Francis QC’s report on Mid Staffordshire. She said: “We are determined this doesn’t mean key things that need to be done get pushed into the long grass and this review used as a delay.
“We already know what many of the failings are around the system,” she said. “The only thing that will address them is making the training mandatory and developing a regulatory system that’s effective.”
A DH spokeswoman said: “Camilla Cavendish has been asked to conduct an independent study of healthcare and care assistants to ensure they have the training and support they need to provide these most essential of services to the highest standards.”
She said terms of reference, including the timescale for the review, were still being agreed.