A recent report has accused the NHS of putting too much pressure and responsibility upon the shoulders of undertrained and underpaid healthcare assistants, with Unison describing the situation as “nursing on the cheap”.
The researchers surveyed 2300 healthcare assistants and found that 55% felt underqualified and insecure about many of the tasks they are frequently being asked to perform in the absence of sufficient numbers of fully qualified nurses. Of particular concern to many was the fact that they are being asked to administer medications which pharmaceutical consulting bodies have issued specific guidelines about, with the most important being that they only be handled by trained professionals.
Two-fifths of the interviewees felt they were sometimes under pressure to perform procedures such as catheter and cannula insertion, which should officially be the job of a nurse. It was also said that doctors sometimes ask support workers to step in because they do not have confidence in agency nurses.
Many healthcare assistants feel undervalued and that their roles are dead-end jobs with not enough opportunities for training and development. However, the experience many HCAs have had in clinical settings can make them extremely valuable to employers and agencies that provide clinical professionals.
The report, discussed at length in a Telegraph article has also expressed concerns about the fact that HCAs are left in charge of vulnerable patients who should be receiving one-to-one care and also dementia patients who require a mental health professional’s input.
Not only do patients obviously incur risks in these overstretched conditions, but by performing complex procedures that require extensive clinical training and experience, HCAs are themselves at risk of the consequences of any errors that could occur. This could affect their future employment prospects. What is more, the onerous responsibilities now placed upon healthcare assistants are not reflected in their pay or prospects, with some of them using words like “skivvy” and “dogsbody” to describe how they feel at work.
Many promises have been made by the current government regarding an injection of funding into the NHS, and hopefully the current situation will be remedied by the recruitment of registered nurses and also by greater investment in education and training for healthcare assistants.