Getting started

Getting started

Like everyone involved in health care, the RCN knows and values the contribution health care assistants bring to patients/clients and health care teams. We believe that contribution becomes even more valuable when health care assistants have a strong foundation of knowledge on which to base their practice.

The aim of this resource is to give you that strong foundation as you begin your career in health care as a health care assistant. It doesn’t matter where you work – in hospital or community, care home or hospice, NHS or independent sector – the principles underpinning what you do are the same. Once you’ve grasped these principles, you’ll be in a much stronger position to learn all the particular things you need to know to carry out your new role in your own workplace. Every workplace will have its own organisational policies and procedures: you need to know where these are and how to access them, and always follow your local guidelines.

The resource is about helping you to:

  • know and respect your role and the roles of others in the health care team
  • promote person-centred care and patient safety
  • communicate in an honest, open, positive and friendly manner that is appropriate to the patient’s/client’s needs
  • ensure you have consent for everything you do with the patient/client
  • provide person-centred care and respect the person’s individuality and dignity
  • protect patients/clients from infection, accidents, injuries and breaches of confidentiality
  • record and report your findings accurately in the appropriate place
  • accept accountability for your actions and behaviour
  • be open to learning new knowledge and skills and to developing your role safely
  • carry out observations safely and effectively.

The learning you gain through the resource will support you to acquire the particular competencies you’ll need to carry out your new role. It will also help you to give your best to your patients/clients and your team and make the most of your experience as a health care assistant.

As you work through the resource, you’ll find a wide range of scenarios, stories, diagrams and other features that are designed to boost your understanding of the topics. Make sure you take time out to look at these, as they are a fundamental part of the resource. Some resources are provided as PDF documents.

We suggest you work through the resource in chunks – don’t try to go through it in one sitting. All of the sections lead into each other.


We have provided a reflective resource for you when you reach the end of each section. We recommend you take some time when you complete each section to ‘reflect on’ – that is, think about – what it is you have learned and how that is going to help you as you move on as a health care assistant.

The reflective resource asks a few simple questions to guide your thinking. You can simply fill in your responses, then retain them to build a collection – what we call a ‘portfolio’ – of what you’ve learned. This might be helpful as you, for example, review your progress with your manager or supervisor as time goes by.

It’s important to emphasise that the reflective resource is not a test, and your responses won’t be assessed or graded. They are for you, to help you recognise what you’ve learned and perhaps point out some things you now need to learn more about. You might want to share your thoughts (reflections) with your manager or supervisor, but that’s entirely up to you.

But just one word of caution. We stress throughout the resource the importance of confidentiality – that is, not revealing any information about patients/clients or colleagues to anyone who isn’t entitled to receive that information. You’ll learn a lot more about confidentiality as you work through the resource, but for now, make sure when you fill in your responses to the reflective resource questions that you don’t identify anyone by name or any other characteristic that would allow their identity to be revealed. You must do this even if no one else ever reads your reflective accounts.

We look at the skills of reflection, which will support you throughout your career in health care, in more detail in the section on Reflection.

Competence checklists

Included in the resource is a Competence Assessment Pack. This contains the performance criteria from a range of National Occupational Standards (NOS) that are relevant for each UK country’s national standards. The checklists can be printed off separately or as a pack and their use is completely optional for individuals who are independently working through the resource. For those people who have been guided to this resource by their employer, the most appropriate checklists can be used according to the needs of the workplace and personal choice.

Download the Competence Assessment Pack by selecting the following link, First Steps competence checklist pack [see PDF document - First Steps competence checklists]

For the full National Occupational Standards, including the knowledge and understanding criteria for each, please refer to Skills for Health UK.

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