HCAs learn compassion in care

In a bid to improve the development and support that is available for healthcare assistants (HCAs) in the workplace, Merseycare NHS Trust has introduced a new two-day mandatory course entitled Let’s Celebrate Healthcare Assistants.


The objective of the course is to ensure that all wards become Star Wards, according to a national activities scheme for mental health inpatients. The course also introduces HCAs to their new code of conduct and the 6Cs of Compassion in Practice. All of these initiatives are underpinned by the Merseycare mental health recovery approach.

Merseycare NHS Trust provides mental health and learning disability services for local people as well as medium secure services for Merseyside and Cheshire, and high secure services covering the North West of England, the West Midlands and Wales.

Although the trust runs a successful apprenticeship scheme that incorporates the Skills for Care Health and Social Care Diploma, the new two-day course is intended for longer serving HCAs who are not undertaking the apprenticeship scheme.

The course is run each week with a maximum of 15 HCAs on each course. Each participant is given a Ward Stars portfolio (part of the Star Wards scheme) to complete in practice. A combination of theory, practical and reflective activities around the Code of Conduct, the 6Cs, the recovery approach and the Ward Stars programme encourages critical debate about the HCA role and how it could be improved.

Many HCAs have worked for the trust for more than 20 years but had not undertaken a professional course for many years. Of the first hundred participants, seven were graduates - two of whom had masters degrees and were qualified teachers whilst others had completed an NVQ in health care some time ago. Several HCAs had A levels, many had GCSEs and others came into health care from careers such as the police, army, law, teaching and security services, or from having run their own businesses.

More than 100 HCAs have attended the course with many evaluating it as very positive. One HCA said ‘It was relaxing and fun, but I also learnt more about my role.’ Another said, ‘Finding out about the Ward Stars and Wardipedia website was really helpful for my role.’

For many, this was the first information on new developments in mental health care they had received. They also appreciated the opportunity to meet other HCAs and said the course had raised their profile to their team and managers. Post-course telephone interviews with 10 participants found that the course had encouraged them to read more about mental health care.

The course facilitator visits participants around a month after they have completed the course and feedback shows that the HCAs show would like compassion-focused reflective practice and clinical supervision to be a permanent feature. The trust is considering how to set aside HCA time to discuss the emotional impact of caring and to help them develop resilience strategies. The nursing directorate is facilitating reflective practice and supervision for all staff throughout the trust.

Learning activities

  • Small group exercises and whole group discussions
  • Participants work in pairs to share examples of compassionate care
  • Computer exercises with Ward Stars and Wardipedia, a collection of resources for mental health inpatient care  
  • Theoretical learning about the recovery approach, nutrition, sleep research and childhood trauma
  • Preparation of a reflective account on compassion
  • Discussion around the core principles of early intervention, patient education, family and social support and partnership working
  • Discussion of the challenges of working with service users
  • Relaxation techniques to teach to service users and to use themselves

Further reading

Read more about the course: Let's celebrate Healthcare Assistants
Find out more about Wardipedia
Find out more about Star Wards

About the author

Fiona Cassells is clinical skills facilitator at Merseycare NHS Trust