British hospital wards could face a “ghastly national disaster” because of the growing number of unregulated healthcare assistants, the Nursing and Midwifery Council said.
Dickon Weir-Hughes, chief executive of the nursing regulator, has called for ministers to create standardised regulations for the hundreds of thousands of workers who are responsible for a lot of the basic care needed by NHS patients.
Professor Weir-Hughes told The Times that some nurses struck off for risking patient safety were still working on wards as healthcare assistants.
He told the newspaper: “We’ve struck people off as nurses who have then come back and worked as healthcare support workers. There’s nothing to prevent them from doing that.
“If they’ve done something wrong that’s very technical, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t give a bed bath, but I don’t think any member of the public would expect a struck-off nurse or midwife to be looking after them as a healthcare support worker.”
He added that even though hundreds of complaints are made about healthcare assistants each year, officials have no power to act.
“All we can do is to say you either have to go to the person’s employer, or if it’s sufficiently serious call the police. There are no other mechanisms,” he said.
The council is drawing up guidelines for nurses who do not know when they need to perform tasks - such as feeding or washing patients - or when they can delegate to assistants.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The case for introducing national statutory regulation must be proportionate to any risks posed.
“We intend to establish a system of voluntary registration, which could deliver the same benefits as a statutory scheme for those employers who choose to use registered workers, and without the cost and bureaucracy associated with a statutory scheme.
“If there are complaints about healthcare assistants they should be directed to the employing organisation. The employing organisation would have a duty to refer the individual to the Independent Safeguarding Authority if there are concerns the individual could pose a risk of harm.”