Health care assistants being used as ‘nurses on the cheap’ says UNISON

Healthcare assistants (HCAs) working in the NHS are doing the jobs of nurses without the equivalent pay or education, says a report from UNISON published today (Friday).

Two in five (39%) say they have not received the training necessary to provide the care expected of them such as looking after dementia patients, according to the report­­ Care on the cheap.

Less than half (45%) of HCAs feel the tasks they are asked to do­ – including giving patients medication, doing heart checks and inserting medical tubes – are appropriate to their level of competence.

The findings are based on a survey of nearly 2,300 HCAs across the UK working in primary and secondary care including GP practices, emergency departments and in the community.

The report highlights how HCAs are being treated as ‘glorified skivvies’ and often left unsupervised to plug gaps in NHS care because of nursing shortages, according to UNISON. Yet more than two thirds (68%) say they are not given sufficient access to training and development.

Failure to allow HCAs to reach their full potential is letting down not only staff but the patients they care for, says UNISON. Instead of investing in the whole HCA workforce, the government has chosen to focus on creating a new ‘nursing associate’ role, a move that UNISON does not believe will solve the NHS staffing crisis.

UNISON is calling on the government to review the HCA role, including a rethink over pay and career progression, and the introduction of national standards defining exactly what their responsibilities should cover.

UNISON deputy head of health Sara Gorton said: “Healthcare assistants are undervalued, increasingly overworked and not getting the support they need at work.

“Their responsibilities have increased massively– from feeding patients to now carrying out skilled medical procedures. They are essentially doing jobs previously done by nurses yet this is neither reflected in their pay nor in their career opportunities, so they’re struggling to make ends meet.

“Many could earn more stacking supermarket shelves than they can looking after patients. It’s nursing on the cheap and patients ultimately suffer as a result.”

Notes to editors:
* Care on the cheap: A UNISON survey of clinical support workers is based on responses from nearly 2,300 HCAs across the UK. It was carried out in January and February 2016.
* For the report summary click here, and for the full report click here.
* HCAs work alongside nurses, paramedics and other health professionals to provide clinical support.
* Health Education England plans to recruit 1,000 nursing associate students to start in January 2017. It is expected to announce the sites for pilot programmes in October 2016.
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