Healthcare assistants are being expected to do the work of nurses without adequate training or proper supervision, according to a survey by Unison.
According to the survey of 2000 healthcare assistants (HCA’s) across the UK, 63% of the support workers who took part reported that they were being left to care for patients without enough support from doctors and nurses.
The majority of respondents are working in hospitals, as well as in mental health, community settings and GP practices, and 39% said they did not feel comfortable that those they were caring for were safe.
Around half said that they had not received adequate training for performing tasks such as dressing the wounds of patients, giving out medication and changing stoma bags.
Also, two in five (41%) said they were asked to carry out tasks without adequate training more often than last winter, and over a third (37%) said they were asked to perform tasks without supervision more frequently than last year.
On the back of the survey results, Unison said it was calling on the government to address staffing issues so that HCA’s could feel “properly supported and patients received the care they deserve.”
The growing trend of HCA’s acting as nurse substitutes has sparked concern that patients may receive inferior or potentially unsafe care because they do not have the same skills, and is the latest illustration of the NHS’s staffing crisis.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Healthcare assistants are key members of the NHS workforce and employers must ensure they are supported to deliver safe care to patients as part of a wider team of doctors and nurses. We know the NHS have never worked harder.”
The creeping expansion of HCA’s roles, linked to the NHS in England’s shortfall of 40,000 nurses, has led to what the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) reported to be “nursing on the cheap”.
The RCN’s general secretary, Janet Davies, said: “Support workers play an extremely important role, but they should supplement the work of nurses, not replace them. It’s unfair on HCAs to expect them to deliver care they have not been trained for. It’s also unfair on patients.”
Health outcomes improve with more registered nursed on duty. The government must not allow nursing on the cheap, and increasing the supply of registered nurses must be a priority,” she added.