Overworked healthcare assistants not given proper training or supervision

Healthcare assistants (HCAs) are being expected to do the work of nurses without adequate training or proper supervision, according to survey results published today (Wednesday) by UNISON.

Nearly two thirds (63%) say they are being left to care for patients without enough support from doctors and nurses. The impact is that almost two in five (39%) of HCAs say they do not feel confident that those they are caring for are safe.

The findings are based on a survey of nearly 2,000 HCAs across the UK with the majority working in hospitals, as well as in mental health, in the community and in GP practices.

More than half (51%) say they have not received adequate training for performing tasks such as dressing the wounds of patients, giving out medication and changing stoma bags.

The report also highlights how nursing and other staff shortages are to blame for nearly three quarters (74%) of HCAs having to take on extra work, according to UNISON.

Healthcare assistants say the situation has been worse this winter (2017/18) compared to the year before. Well over half (57%) say that they have picked up extra work due to nursing or clinical staff shortages. Also, two in five (41%) say they were asked to carry out tasks without adequate training more often than last winter, and over a third (37%) said they were asked to perform tasks without supervision more frequently than last year.

UNISON is calling on the government to address staffing issues so that HCAs feel properly supported and patients receive the care they deserve.

UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said: “Healthcare assistants are being left to fill staffing gaps and do vital tasks without recognition or reward. It’s bad for them and bad for patients.

“It is important these staff receive training for all the extra responsibilities they’re expected to take on.

“It’s clear the pressures on them to act as nurse substitutes have increased over the winter. The government needs to show they value healthcare assistants by investing in their training.”

Notes to editors:
– The summary findings for the 2018 healthcare assistant survey are available here
– Case studies are available (on request from the UNISON press office) to speak anonymously to the media:

Nicole, 33, from Greater Manchester said: “The trust I work for has got rid of the band 3 salary scale, so now band 2 workers are doing band 3 work for less money, which doesn’t seem very fair. On my first day I was shown how to do tasks like taking pulses and blood pressure by another HCA. They said they’d never been properly trained how to do it and weren’t really sure if they were doing it properly. HCAs are doing ECGs and taking bloods, that’s a lot of responsibility.”

Janet, 40, from Croydon said: “Trusts are trying to make use of HCAs, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can put patients at risk. I work as a maternity support officer on a band 3. There is a divide at the trust I work for between the people that have worked there a long time and those of us that are newer to the job. People who have been in the job longer have received different training that doesn’t cover everything we’re expected to do these days. Since I started two years ago there’s more pressure on us, and we’re taking on more responsibilities.”

Graham, 51, from Bradford said: “There is a lot of pressure from understaffing. I work in a dementia ward and it can affect the level of care you give. The ratio of patients to staff is very high. Sometimes you wonder why patients are being admitted without due regard for the number of staff. We don’t even have time to do our core responsibilities properly, it’s very stressful.”

Media contacts:
Liz Chinchen T: 0203 740 5475 M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk