Health secretary Andrew Lansley has officially announced plans for a voluntary register, code of conduct, and basic training standards for healthcare assistants.
The plans, revealed on Monday by nursingtimes.net and confirmed today by Mr Lansley, have already been criticised by academics and the Royal College of Nursing as being too weak to improve patient safety.
The government’s announcement is a response to growing calls for the introduction of tighter standards and regulation for HCAs in the wake of a number of critical reports on nursing care over the last 12 months.
Speaking at the NHS Employers conference in Liverpool today, Mr Lansley said the code of conduct and training standards would focus on areas including communication, confidentiality, nutrition and hydration, and basic observation.
He added that the code would also assist registered nurses in knowing which tasks they could delegate to HCAs safely, and clarify when HCAs would need further training to deliver more advanced tasks.
Mr Lansley said the project to develop a code of conduct and minimum training standards for HCAs would be taken forward jointly by Skills for Health and Skills for Care – the agencies that represent employers on training issues – in partnership with unions, employers, regulators and educators.
The skills councils have been told to present their recommendations to the government by September next year. Their findings will be used to establish a voluntary register for healthcare support workers and adult social care workers in 2013.
Rejecting calls for mandatory HCA regulation, Mr Lansley said: “Good local supervision offers support everyday. Distant national regulation can often only react after the event.
“Employers must always take responsibility and be accountable for the staff they employ. But, we recognise that more can be done to support employers in this and a code of conduct and clear minimum training standards will provide important clarity in this area,” he said.
“These measures will help employers to better consider the skills profile of potential employees and ensure that patients and service users get the care and support they need.”
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said the announcement was a “welcome step in the right direction”.
She said: “Healthcare assistants’ access and right to training and development can be patchy, and their job roles and responsibilities can be unclear. Bringing some consistency will help support the entire health team to give patients the best possible care.”
The planned voluntary register for HCAs would be accredited by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, which is set to be renamed the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care under the government’s reforms.