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Who’s caring?

Ensuring the right healthcare professional attends to your needs.
The role of the HCA

Imagine you are a young woman with three children under 7 and you make an appointment to review your repeat medication. The medication, though safe and beneficial, can cause severe side effects and potential death if prescribed inappropriately.

The healthcare professional you see has had so little training she is oblivious to the parameters used to ensure this medication can be given safely, does not know how to detect side effects and is unaware of the questions needing to be asked or the guidance that should be followed.

The healthcare professional recognises the limitation of her knowledge and voices her concern to her employer who states that if she feels she is unable to carry on with this procedure...the door is there to walk through.

As the patient, you have developed some symptoms which you voice

...

Imagine you are a young woman with three children under 7 and you make an appointment to review your repeat medication. The medication, though safe and beneficial, can cause severe side effects and potential death if prescribed inappropriately.

The role of the HCA
Recognising the role of the HCA. Picture: Alamy

The healthcare professional you see has had so little training she is oblivious to the parameters used to ensure this medication can be given safely, does not know how to detect side effects and is unaware of the questions needing to be asked or the guidance that should be followed.

The healthcare professional recognises the limitation of her knowledge and voices her concern to her employer who states that if she feels she is unable to carry on with this procedure...the door is there to walk through.

As the patient, you have developed some symptoms which you voice to the health professional who suggests you see another team member. Your heart sinks as you know the difficulty of booking and attending another appointment. The healthcare professional prints off the prescription and takes it to be signed by the doctor.

Have you guessed the scenario? This is 'just a pill check' done by a healthcare assistant (HCA).

The role of the HCA

This incident came to light during a training session. It is not an isolated case. Nurses – aware of their role, responsibilities and registration – often refuse to complete pill checks without training. The role of the HCA in general practice is ambiguous and diverse, with different roles and responsibilities. There is no consistency on what they can do, their competency levels and what training they need.

I was informed of HCA pill checks taking place in one surgery which changed the procedure so that they were done only by nurses and doctors during a Care Quality Commission visit, reverting to HCAs after the review.

We all value the contribution and support of the HCAs and it is hard to visualise a working environment without their input, but this scenario highlights quality of care issues, for patients and HCAs. What are your views?


About the author

Valerie McMunnValerie McMunn is lecturer in contraception, sexual health and cytology at City, University of London

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