Healthcare assistants should train in fundamental care before they look after patients, a review has said.
Carried out in the wake of the Francis Inquiry into the failings of care at Mid Staffordshire Hospital Foundation Trust, the Cavendish review recommends that healthcare assistants and social care support workers get a ‘Certificate of Fundamental Care’ before they can look after people.
After gaining the qualification, support staff can use the title ‘nursing assistant’ to improve communication between staff and patients, who often confuse HCAs with fully qualified nurses.
Certificate holders would then be able to progress into a newly created ‘Higher Certificate of Fundamental Care’, enabling healthcare assistants to train further and become nurses.
“Patient safety in the NHS and social care depends on recognising the contribution of support workers, valuing and training them as part of a team,” said Camilla Cavendish, who led the review.
Cavendish, the associate editor of The Sunday Times added: “For people to get the best care, there must be less complexity and duplication and a greater focus on ensuring that support staff are treated with the seriousness they deserve – for some of them are the most caring of all.”
‘Pockets of excellence’
According to the review, the quality of training and support that care workers receive in the NHS and social care varies greatly between organisations.
The review states: “There are pockets of excellence but too much variation. The best organisations are trying to reduce variation with rigorous training… [But] the system does not currently guarantee public safety.”
Minimum standards of training will require support staff to know first aid, and how to lift someone properly. It may also require understanding how to correctly dress a wound or change a catheter, both of which are serious infection risks if done incorrectly.
Research has suggested that some HCAs do not fully understand the consequences of something going wrong in a healthcare situation.
Yet the Cavendish Review notes that support workers in hospital and care home settings are often administering medication, taking blood samples and inserting catheters.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said: "Improving training and support for Health Care Support Workers is not only desirable, it is essential. With a rising population of older people, this is a workforce without which the NHS could not function.
“Health Care Support Workers, particularly those who have their tasks delegated by nurses, need the same values and ethos as registered nurses, and we welcome moves to bring the professions closer.”
The government will decide whether to adopt the policies in a formal response, released in autumn.