Healthcare assistants being used as 'nurses on the cheap', says new report

NHS healthcare assistants (HCAs) are doing the jobs of nurses without the equivalent pay or education, according to a new report from Unison.

Healthcare assistants (HCAs) are doing the jobs of nurses without the equivalent pay or education, according to a new report from Unison.

HCA in action
Health care assistants are doing the same amount of work as nurses. Picture: Science Photo Library

Two in five (39%) HCAs said they have not received the training necessary to provide the care expected of them, such as looking after dementia patients.

Less than half (45%) felt the tasks they were given – including giving patients medication, doing heart checks and inserting medical tubes – were appropriate to their competence level.

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

Nursing on the cheap

Unison deputy head of health Sara Gorton said: '[HCAs] 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 are struggling to make ends meet.

'Many could earn more stacking supermarket shelves than they can looking after patients – it is nursing on the cheap, and patients ultimately suffer as a result.'

More than two thirds (68%) of HCAs said they were not given sufficient access to training and development.

Paying the price of the nursing shortage

RCN deputy director of nursing Stephanie Aiken said a long-term workforce plan was needed.

'Many HCAs are highly skilled, and the NHS could not function for a single day without them.

'But many are paying the price of the nursing shortage, and being pushed into taking on roles and responsibilities without the necessary training or support.

'Nobody wins from this – not the nurses, not the healthcare support workers, and definitely not the patients.

Unison is calling on the government to review the HCA role, with a rethink over pay and career progression, as well as introducing national standards defining their role and responsibilities.

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