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Healthcare assistant

Healthcare assistants (HCAs) work in hospital or community settings, such as GP surgeries, under the guidance of a qualified healthcare professional. The role can be varied depending upon the healthcare setting.

Most commonly, HCAs work alongside nurses and are sometimes known as nursing auxiliaries or auxiliary nurses. HCAs also work alongside qualified midwives in maternity services.

The types of duties include the following:

  • washing and dressing
  • serving patients meals and assisting with feeding when necessary
  • helping people to mobilise
  • toileting
  • bed making
  • generally assisting with patients' overall comfort
  • monitoring patients' conditions by taking temperatures, pulse, respirations and weight

Nursing HCAs usually work a 37.5 hour week on a shift or rota system, typically including nights and weekends. Part-time and flexible working is often available.

Healthcare science

An HCA may also work alongside some healthcare scientists, for example with audiologists, helping them to investigate and treat diseases.

Healthcare assistants, working in healthcare science, work normal office hours or shifts, including evenings and weekends, depending on their particular role and specialism. Part-time and flexible working is often available.

Allied health professions

Clinical support workers (sometimes known as therapy assistants or therapy helpers) work alongside allied health professionals such as:


Duties will depend on the form of therapy but are likely to include:

  • preparing patients for their therapy
  • setting up equipment to use in the session/treatment
  • assisting the therapist in the treatment itself
  • contributing to record keeping
Training and development

Some employers will be looking for their HCAs to have a QCF qualification at level 2 or 3 while others will support HCAs to gain these qualifications post employment. QCF qualifications in Healthcare Support Services or Clinical Healthcare Support include those accredited by CACHE. It is also possible to enter work as an HCA (or senior HCA) through an apprenticeship.

A caring and compassionate attitude and an understanding of the role are often essential. Experience of working in a care settting is also likely to support your application so volunteering or work experience may help.

QCF level 2 qualifications will usually lead to you having more responsibility. While an appropriate QCF level 3 qualification will be sufficient to meet the minimum entry requirements for nurse training at some universities. Prospective candidates should always check entry requirements with the universities they are considering applying to.

Assistant practitioners

There are also increasing opportunities to work as an assistant practitioner and to work towards an appropriate foundation degree.

The Open University has a foundation degree programme in Healthcare Practice (and its Scottish equivalent, the Diploma of Higher Education (Dip HE) programme) for healthcare support workers who are already working.

It is open to healthcare support workers without any formal qualifications and is designed to be studied alongside their regular work. It has flexible a 'step on, step off' framework, which opens the door not only to healthcare but ultimately to nursing qualifications.

The first step-on point is a Certificate of Higher Education in Healthcare Practice. Students can step off after they have done this, or go on to do a full foundation degree (or Dip HE in Scotland).

Secondment

Experienced HCAs working at a senior level (usually as an assistant practitioner or similar level) may be able to obtain a secondment from their current employer onto an appropriate pre-registration programme at university.

This would mean studying (usually on a part-time basis) for a programme leading to registration as an nurse, midwife, physiotherapist, radiographer, speech and language therapist or podiatrist.

Staff seeking secondment must have the academic ability to cope with the course, and if seconded, will usually receive support from their employer. It is for NHS employers to decide whether or not they will second staff from their NHS organisation.

Job vacancies

For details of job vacancies and apprenticeships, visit the NHS Jobs website.