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Healthcare assistants help healthcare professionals to care for patients. They may work in a hospital environment alongside doctors and nurses or in the home of a patient.
Healthcare assistants are responsible for assisting qualified healthcare professionals in caring for patients, who may be being treated in hospital or at home. The job can be extremely varied, since the healthcare professionals who require the services of a healthcare assistant range from nurses to doctors, and from radiologists to midwives. The job of a healthcare assistant overlaps with that performed by a nurse. However, healthcare assistants are not allowed to administer medication or perform complex nursing procedures.
They are responsible for performing simple medical tasks such as taking blood and inserting needles into veins. They also take regular observations and ensure that patients are constantly kept as comfortable as possible. Healthcare assistants are also able to help out during emergency situations, for instance during emergency resuscitations. If a patient dies, healthcare assistants are responsible for washing and preparing the body prior to the visit of relatives and transportation to the morgue.
Whilst healthcare assistants are responsible for recording the observations of patients throughout the day, they do not usually have much paperwork to do. Paperwork is usually the responsibility of the nurse. For this reason, healthcare assistants will have relatively more contact with patients and the relatives of patients.
Newly qualified healthcare assistants can expect to earn between £13,000 and £16,000. The precise salary provided to an individual will depend upon the nature of their position. After a few years’ worth of experience, the salary of a healthcare assistant is likely to increase to approximately £18,000. However, even senior healthcare assistants who have held the same position for a number of years are unlikely to earn much more than this amount.
The precise tasks carried out by healthcare assistants will obviously vary depending upon which healthcare professional requires help. However, typical tasks include:
- Helping patients to undertake personal tasks, including washing, showering, and using the toilet
- Serving food to patients and helping them to eat if they are physically weak
- Changing dirty sheets and bedding
- Making the beds
- Talking to patients to ease loneliness and feelings of isolation
- Listening to the particular needs of patients and acting on these needs as appropriate
- Turning patients who are required to spend a lot of time in bed, in order to avoid bed sores
- Helping patients to move around their environment and to feel comfortable in their own homes or in hospital. This involves keeping their living area extremely clean and tidy
- Improving the mobility of patients
- Giving out bedpans
- Collecting used bedpans
- Ensuring that supplies of medical equipment are replenished
- Taking the temperature of the patient
- Recording the temperature of the patient
- Taking the pulse rate of the patient
- Recording the pulse rate of the patient
- Taking the respiration rate of the patient
- Recording the respiration rate of the patient
- Notifying healthcare professionals if temperatures, pulse rates, or respiration rates seem abnormal or worrying
- Measuring the weight of the patient
- Measuring blood glucose levels
- Performing electrocardiograms, which allow healthcare assistants to monitor a patient’s heart activity
- Taking blood from the patient
- Preparing patients for therapy or medical treatment
- Setting up equipment needed by healthcare professionals
- Assisting the healthcare professional whilst they administer therapy or treatment
- Ensuring that the patient is comfortable whilst the therapy or treatment is being administered
- Recording the patient’s progress following each session of therapy or treatment
Unlike individuals who wish to become healthcare professionals, potential healthcare assistants do not need to hold any specific qualifications or have a scientific background. However, individuals will need to pass a medical check and, because of the amount of close contact with vulnerable patients of all ages, a Criminal Records Bureau check will also have to be carried out. Furthermore, a driving license is useful, since healthcare assistants often need to visit patients in their own homes throughout the day.
Once healthcare assistants have started work, they can study for NVQ qualifications in Health or Health and Social Care. These qualifications will allow employees to learn more about patient care and, once they have been completed, individuals will often be allowed to perform tasks which require a greater level of responsibility.
Healthcare assistants will need to possess the following skills:
- A caring nature
- An approachable nature
- An open mind
- The desire to work with people of all ages and from all backgrounds
- Good communication skills
- Good listening skills
- A tactful nature
- The ability to keep sensitive information confidential at all times
- A respectful approach to patients and colleagues
- The ability and desire to take own initiative whilst recognising their limitations
- The ability to work as part of a team
- The ability to remain patient and calm in tough situations
- A good sense of humour
- Good organisational skills
Healthcare assistants usually work in either hospitals or the homes of patients. They may have to spend a lot of time travelling between locations if work is performed primarily in a community setting. Most healthcare assistants work on a shift basis, which may include nights and weekend work. However, hours are often flexible and part-time work is available for those who desire it.
Working as a healthcare assistant can be rather stressful. Some tasks require individuals to deal with messy and unpleasant situations and this can become taxing after a long day. Other situations can be emotionally disturbing, since many patients have mental disorders and are simply unable to look after themselves. The job can also be physically demanding, since healthcare assistants are responsible for lifting heavy medical equipment and supporting the weight of patients who have mobility problems.
Previous experience in any caring role will be invaluable for individuals hoping to become healthcare assistants. Previous medical experience is useful but not essential. Volunteer work of any kind will look good on a CV as well. If you are interested in becoming a healthcare assistant, you should try contacting your local NHS Trust to arrange a work experience or volunteering opportunity.
Healthcare assistants are usually employed by the following employers:
- The NHS
- Private hospitals
- Residential homes
- Nursing homes
- Private agencies
Many healthcare assistants choose to stay in their position throughout their career. This is usually because they find it personally rewarding rather than for financial reward. However, experience as a healthcare assistant will provide individuals with a solid foundation for becoming a nurse, a midwife, a social worker, or a support worker.
Also known as…
- Nursing auxiliaries
- Nursing assistants
- Support workers
- Clinical support workers
What’s it really like?
Anna, who is 21 years of age, has been working as a healthcare assistant in a hospital for three years on a part-time basis. She is currently on the ‘bank system’, which means she is able to a certain extent to choose her hours.
Her typical day revolves around the daily care of patients on the hospital ward. She helps them perform basic tasks, including washing, getting dressed, and eating meals. She also monitors their temperature, blood pressure, and takes other observations throughout the day. She has regular contact with both doctors and nurses and is responsible for updating them on the progress of patients.
Anna loves the amount of patient contact demanded by her job. She appreciates the relative lack of paperwork and enjoys chatting with patients and getting to know them as people. Anna finds it satisfying to help people and also loves seeing the positive effects of her daily tasks on her patients. The smallest task carried out by a healthcare assistant, such as turning a patient over in bed, can make a huge difference and this is something which Anna really values.
However, Anna also pointed out several negative aspects of the job. Working as a healthcare assistant can be stressful, especially when the ward is short-staffed. Furthermore, the position is poorly paid and this can frustrate healthcare assistants who work very hard for long periods of time. Anna believes that the job is ideal for people who love interacting with others. However, she feels that anyone who is at all squeamish should not apply, since certain tasks can be unpleasant. Potential applicants should also be willing to work long hours, including night shifts and early mornings.
Whilst an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy and pathology is not essential for healthcare assistants, Anna believes that it is worthwhile for employees to have some level of awareness about medical issues. She believes that it is important for healthcare assistants to understand why certain procedures are performed and how the tasks carried out on a daily basis assist the patient.
Anna believes that the career progression for healthcare assistants is fairly limited. However, some of her colleagues have progressed to hold the position of ‘senior healthcare assistant’. Others often decide to undertake nursing training, whilst many are happy to hold the basic position for their entire career.