The voluntary regulation of healthcare assistants is an “inherently weak” idea that would leave patients at risk, the Royal College of Nursing has warned.
Training standards and a new code of conduct for HCAs are currently being finalised by Skills for Health and will be presented to the Department of Health in January.
Skills for Health was commissioned by the government to produce the standards and it is expected they will form the basis of a future voluntary system of regulation.
But in a policy document critiquing the proposals, the college describes the government’s favoured approach of “assured voluntary regulation” as “inherently weak”.
It argues that only a mandatory register can protect patients and assure nurses that HCAs have a core level of competence.
The document claims a voluntary system would do nothing to prevent “poorly performing or dangerous support workers” from moving between employers and risks creating confusion among employers and HCAs themselves.
It questions why voluntary regulation is considered acceptable when many HCAs carry out tasks that were previously carried out by registered nurses.
The college has been a long standing supporter of the need for mandatory HCA regulation but until now has not openly criticised voluntary regulation itself.
RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “With voluntary regulation, there is a serious danger that those healthcare support workers who represent the most significant risk may be the least likely to be on a register, and may then be able to move between employers without sanction or any monitoring.
“A consistent, mandatory system of regulation is the only way to ensure that concerns about performance and conduct are tackled.”
However, health minister Earl Howe recently suggested the government had not completely rejected mandatory regulation.
He told the House of Lords the government’s “mind was open” on the issue, though he said there would need to be a “good, evidence-based case before proceeding with mandatory regulation”.
The government is also waiting for the outcome of the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which is expected to include recommendation on the issue early next year.