The close relationships healthcare assistants develop with patients are an opportunity for trusts to drive up their performance scores, researchers have found.
In interviews and focus groups as part of ground breaking research on the HCA role, patients said they had closer relationships with HCAs than nurses.
One of the authors, Said Business School senior research associate Paul Heron, said this meant nursing directors who want to improve a trust’s patient satisfaction scores should look at their HCAs.
He told Nursing Times: “HCAs make a vital contribution to the things a trust is measured on. A nurse director said to us, ‘If you want to improve on that you need to focus on HCAs because they do the washing and feeding and toileting.’
“Patients like HCAs, they get on with them and see a lot of benefits to being cared for by them.”
There have been concerns patients get confused between the roles of HCAs and nurses.
But the researchers found that those patients who were able to distinguish between the two rated their care more highly.
“Introducing themselves in their role saves a lot of frustration to the patient,” Mr Heron said.
He said the recent national inpatient survey was “in error” in ignoring HCAs and not collecting discrete information on patients’ views about the quality of care they provided.
The research says HCAs have specific, extra skills that nurses do not have and which are distinct from their support role.
The report said “HCAs could sometimes uniquely elicit information and responses from a patient” that nurses could then act on.
For example, observers witnessed an assistant from the same ethnic background as a patient translating their wishes to the nursing staff. They often also had much stronger local links than nurses.
In the survey HCAs reported being more comfortable than nurses in dealing with verbally abusive or deeply upset patients.
Nurses interviewed for the study identified additional HCA qualities as “an extra pair of eyes” and as informal mentors for new nursing staff and students.
NHS London’s programme director for modernising nursing careers Kathryn Jones said HCAs might develop the relationships they do with patients because they are less likely to be interrupted in their duties than nurses.
But she said: “A team of HCAs is only as good as the nurse in charge.”