Ministers have again dismissed calls from the influential Commons’ health select committee to introduce compulsory regulation for healthcare assistants, though they accepted there was a need to raise standards.
The “case has not yet been made for imposing further statutory [HCA] regulation”, the government said in its response to the committee’s report Education, Training and Workforce Planning, which was published in May.
The committee of MPs said a statutory system of regulation, similar to that imposed on qualified nurses, would “provide the best assurance to patients”.
The Department of Health instead suggested existing rules and duties on qualified staff, such as nurses, to properly supervise and take responsibility for HCAs were adequate.
But it added: “We recognise however that there is a need to drive up standards.”
It pointed to the current work by Skills for Health to develop a code of conduct and minimum training requirements for HCAs, which should be completed by the end of the year.
These minimum standards should cover support tasks such as personal care, moving patients, undertaking basic observations, nutrition and hydration training.
The DH stated: “We recognise that the debate about the most appropriate way of driving up standards of care provided for this part of the workforce is an issue at the heart of the patient experience and we need to continue to ensure that system and process remains fit for purpose.”
Once the voluntary register has been running for three years a strategic review of the voluntary system and comparison with statutory regulation will be carried out, the DH said, reiterating a pledge made earlier this year by health minister Earl Howe.
“This [review] will include consideration of any further measures need to assure the safety of patients and the public,” the DH response said.
On the issues of skillmix and staffing levels, the DH maintained its position that local providers were “best placed” to decide these issues. “Health service managers, clinicians and employers…must be free to manage their own workforce and clinical teams to meet the health service needs of their community,” it said.
The DH admitted the use of agency and locum staff “did not provide an optimum solution” and said NHS trusts needed to be more efficient in the use of temporary workers.