Following the recent revelations and reporting on patient care provided by Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, one of the issues that has been investigated is the level of training received by healthcare assistants in the NHS. More and more assistants are involved in patient care and concerns have been present for some time that they do not have the training necessary to identify potential problems and manage some of the situations that they deal with.
The Government set up the Cavendish Review to investigate the role of healthcare assistants in England. This review, which has recently been published, reports that there are more than 1.3 million staff dealing with patients who are not registered nurses. The investigation found that there is no minimum standard of training for healthcare assistants before they start dealing with patients and that many work unsupervised. Different trusts have different standards of training with no consistency or minimum standards in place. In some instances healthcare assistants were involved in procedures such as taking blood from patients – again without training.
Unsurprisingly the report has recommended that healthcare assistants should go through a universal training system and gain accreditation before they can work unsupervised and proposes a Certificate of Fundamental Care which would be a formal qualification for healthcare assistants with prescribed standards. It suggests that the certificate would tie in with nursing training making it easier for assistants to subsequently become nurses and that qualified healthcare assistants should be titled ‘Nursing assistants’ to more accurately reflect their role.
Camilla Cavendish, author of the review, said: "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.. ..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."
It is understood that the Government will provide a formal response to the review later this year and has already promised to establish ‘minimum training standards’ for HCAs by spring 2014.
Penningtons’ clinical negligence team has witnessed an increasing number of claims against the NHS for issues arising out of basic nursing care failures such as pressure sores, falls and failure to identify a patient’s deteriorating condition. Often the responsibility has been left with healthcare assistants.
Philippa Luscombe, partner in the clinical negligence team, said: “The lack of training and support for healthcare assistants has been a significant contributing factor to the number of claims we are seeing relating to nursing care – particularly for the elderly. The Government’s decision to commission this review was a positive step. If it goes on to follow the recommendations that have been made, we would expect to see a significant improvement in patient care, a reduction in claims arising from poor care and healthcare assistants who feel more valued and confident in their role – each of which can only be a good thing.”