With a shortage of healthcare staff to look after patients in the United Kingdom, healthcare assistants are very much in demand. This is a hands-on job that involves looking after patients with varying requirements, so it’s not a glamorous job. However, it is a very rewarding job.
If you have the right skills and temperament, you should easily be able to find a healthcare assistant position that makes all the difference to those in need of help. If you care about vulnerable people and think you could cope with a dynamic and challenging job role, a healthcare assistant profession could be the career you’re looking for.
What is a healthcare assistant?
Healthcare assistants work under the guidance of qualified healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses. Commonly known as HCAs, healthcare assistants are also sometimes called nursing assistants or auxiliary nurses. HCAs provide patients with care and attention.
They work in hospitals or community environments like GP surgeries, private clinics and nursing homes. They can work inside patients’ homes as well. Whatever setting you work in, as an HCA, your primary role is to ensure patients with any type of illness or injury are cared for.
What does a health care assistant actually do?
As a full-time HCA, you would typically work thirty-seven hours a week. Due to the fact that most health care facilities are open twenty-four hours a day, you would generally work in shifts that include working nights and weekends. You would be assigned patients to oversee during your allocated shift. The tasks you are delegated will be according to your skills and competence.
You would provide patients with support and care by performing duties such as helping them to wash, dress, eat, drink and go to the toilet. The role of an HCA also involves reassuring the patients in your care and helping them to maintain a good level of comfort and dignity.
In addition, you’ll be keeping a senior healthcare professional informed about any changes in patients’ conditions or any concerns you may have about their welfare. You might have to keep records and fill out documentation as well.
Healthcare Assistant Job Description
The exact job description of an HCA depends on the environment you work in. However, although daily duties differ for medical care settings like hospitals and social care environments like care homes, the job of an HCA essentially involves similar tasks. Duties of the job role can include:
- Assisting Patients with Mobility: You would oversee safe transitions from one place to another for patients with mobility problems, including helping them to the toilet.
- Assisting Patients with Feeding: You would help patients who cannot feed themselves to eat and drink.
- Making Beds: To ensure the comfort of patients, you would replace linens on a daily basis.
- Washing Patients: You would help patients who are unable to bathe or shower by themselves.
- Dressing Patients: You would help patients who are unable to dress themselves.
- Checking Patients’ Vitals: Monitoring and recording the vitals of patients, such as temperatures, pulse and respiration rates, is usually a big part of an HCA’s daily duties.
- Taking Blood and Urine Samples: If you work in a hospital environment, you’ll usually take patient blood and urine samples.
- Sterilising Equipment: You would be responsible for sterilising and properly storing equipment.
- Lab Processing: As an HCA, you would process lab tests and notify your superior health care professional of the results.
- Dressing and Cleaning Wounds of Patients: This can be an integral part of an HCA’s daily duties, especially in a hospital setting.
Key Skills for a Healthcare Assistant
As the name implies, you’ll need to be caring to become a healthcare assistant. This involves having the ability to relate to and communicate with people of all backgrounds and ages. You’ll need to be kind, friendly, chatty and cheerful; even if you’re having a stressful day.
You also need to be able to stay calm in difficult situations. Seeing as the job role involves a lot of hands-on tasks, you’ll need to be comfortable in duties like taking patients to the toilet, washing patients and feeding patients. Other key skills of an HCA include:
- Being a good listener.
- Being proactive.
- Being organised.
- Being able to follow instructions accurately.
- Being approachable.
- Being able to act with trust and discretion.
- Being able to work in a team but also on your own initiative.
- Having a sensitive and kind nature.
- Having good observational skills to identify any problems or concerns.
- Having good communication skills, in order to communicate effectively with patients, their family members, and other members of staff.
Useful Work Experience
Having professional or personal experience in caring is a great advantage. If you don’t have any prior related experience in care or health, you could volunteer at a local care home.
This would provide you with a basic knowledge of the caring profession and get you used to doing tasks like washing people and taking them to the toilet.
You’ll then be in a good position to know whether you’re cut out for the job of an HCA. Having hands-on work experience under your belt will also help you to have the edge over another applicant when you attend an interview for an HCA job position.
Average Salaries for a Healthcare Assistant
If you work as an HCA for the NHS, you will be paid according to the Agenda for Change pay system. Under this system, you would begin at band two. With one to five years’ experience at this level, you would earn £17,652 per annum.
With five to six years of experience, you would earn £17,983 per annum. With over six years’ experience, you would earn £19,020 per annum. Most beginner HCAs who work in facilities outside of the NHS can expect to earn between £15,000 and £18,000 per year. With years of experience, you could earn up to £20,000 per year.
Qualifications for Healthcare Assistants
Although you are not required to have qualifications for an entry-level HCA position, most employers expect you to have good numeracy and literacy skills. They may therefore need you to have GCSE grades A to C or one to three, or an equivalent qualification, in English and maths.
Furthermore, some employers may expect you to have a specific qualification, such as an NVQ or BTEC in a healthcare-related field. It’s also desirable to have some experience in health or social care, either in a paid or voluntary capacity. There are some HCA apprenticeships available too, which allow you to get paid while being trained on the job.
Regardless of the qualifications you have, you will receive six months of training when you begin any HCA job. The six months are usually a probationary period. This time allows you and your employer to see if you’re suitable for the role. After this initial period, you can gain a Care Certificate, through Skills for Health, Skills for Care and Health Education England.
By receiving the Care Certificate, you demonstrate you meet the set of standards outlined for health and social care workers. There are fifteen standards you must complete before you can be awarded the Care Certificate. These standards include:
- Duty of Care.
- Fluids and Nutrition.
- Equality and Diversity.
- Awareness of Learning Disability and Mental Health.
- Safeguarding Children.
- Safeguarding Adults.
In addition, your employer may give you the opportunity to study for other qualifications, such as the CACHE Level Two Certificate in Healthcare Support Services and the CACHE level Two or Level Three Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support.
Once you have experience as an HCA, you could progress in your career by training to become a senior healthcare assistant. This position would involve responsibilities like training new HCAs. Once you are a senior HCA, you can progress even further by training as an assistant practitioner or a nursing associate.
You would also have the opportunity of studying for a degree to become a healthcare professional such as a midwife, an occupational therapist, a podiatrist, a radiographer or a nurse. Working as an HCA can open many doors to several routes of healthcare careers.
If you’re caring, kind and well-organised, and you enjoy helping people, you may find a health care assistant role is the right career for you. You would help patients with tasks like washing, dressing and going to the toilet, and you would assist health care professionals with tasks like lab testing and taking blood samples.
Although you don’t need specific qualifications to apply for this job role, it’s helpful to have some experience or qualifications under your belt. Once you have experience of working as an HCA, you can earn a Care Certificate to progress in your career.
You also then have the opportunity to move into other areas of healthcare. The role of an HCA is a demanding one, so it’s not for everyone. Start off by getting some experience in a care home to find out whether this career is for you.