Deciding to become a healthcare assistant opens up a number of options for a career in care. Healthcare assistants (often referred to as care assistants, support workers or HCA) play a vital role in the National Health Service (NHS). They also work in patients’ homes or community settings such as GP surgeries.
This article offers some insight into healthcare assistants’ (HCAs) work and discusses possible options for training at entry-level and beyond. It also looks at required skill sets for those wishing to undertake a role in the area of general patient care.
What formal qualifications are required to become a healthcare professional?
In reality, there are no set requirements for becoming a healthcare assistant.
However, the following qualifications are recommended to improve your chances of gaining employment:
- Grades in GCSEs (A* to C) in Maths and English
- A health care qualification – ideally The Care Certificate
Most HCAs will typically look to find part-time unpaid (or paid if they are lucky) work early on. Previous experience is vital when dealing with patients and it is important that potential applicants look to hone their communication and organisational skills as soon as possible.
How much does an entry-level health care assistant earn?
Typically a healthcare assistant will start at between £15,000 to £18,000 and progress on to £20,000 with further experience. However, they may be able to earn more by working unsocial hours or at weekends.
What skills and personal characteristics are needed?
Discretion and trust are values held highly in the NHS as well as the ability to follow instructions accurately. Health care professionals often work with vulnerable people. Applicants should be sensitive to the privacy of their patients and understand that respect is paramount in the care profession.
To be a health care assistant, any candidate should ideally:
- be cheerful and friendly
- be caring and kind
- be willing to do personal care tasks (bathing, toileting, etc.)
- be willing to use own initiative or work as part of a wider team
- be able to follow instructions and procedures
- be hands-on with the patient
A career as an HCA is a full-time commitment to caring for those less fortunate than themselves. It takes dedication, great patience and attention to detail. A good sense of humour also goes a long way.
What are the responsibilities of a care assistant?
The responsibilities of a care assistant vary based on a career path but all focus on the care of patients. Whether in hospitals, the patient’s home or in community settings such as a residential care home or doctors surgery – care assistant duties may include:
- helping to feed patients
- helping to wash the patient
- assisting with or dressing the patient
- monitoring the patient (e.g. weight, pulse, blood pressure, temperature checks)
- monitoring and administering medication
- venepuncture (taking blood)
- sterilising equipment
- helping to educate the patient and family members on health matters
- providing comfort and emotional support to the patient
- taking and processing laboratory samples
Healthcare assistants are often the first person a patient meets when diagnosed with an illness. The work on the frontline in both the NHS and community settings under the guidance of a variety of professionals. These may include Midwives, Nurses, Doctors, Consultants and even other experienced healthcare assistants.
From mental health to social work, HCAs are a vital component of the care sector. They offer personal care throughout the community and can specialise in areas as diverse as surgeons.
HCAs are often the frontline in the defence against infection prevention and control, food hygiene and healthcare awareness. They assist with clinical duties and are responsible for promoting positive mental/physical/nutritional health to the public.
The life of a healthcare assistant is extremely tiring and can be stressful. The upside is that it is very rewarding knowing that the individual can have a positive impact on the patient’s life.
Are there opportunities to progress as a Healthcare Assistant?
There are many opportunities for HCAs to advance in the care sector. Some may decide to follow a formal route to Nursing or Midwifery, while others may decide to specialise.
Experienced healthcare assistants working at a senior level (usually as an Assistant Practitioner or similar level) may be able to obtain a secondment onto an appropriate pre-registration programme at University.
Some care assistants join the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) as health practitioner members where they can attend networking events and further training.
Or with further study, the Allied Healthcare professions offer a wide range of areas to work in.
The 14 allied health professions include:
- Art Therapists
- Drama Therapists
- Music Therapists
- Occupational Therapists
- Operating Department Practitioners
- Prosthetists and Orthotists
- Speech and Language Therapists
Ultimately it is down to the individual regarding the path they choose. Some healthcare assistants prefer to work in their designated role for their entire career while others move into management, private care or a more specialised role.
Regardless of the path chosen, healthcare assistants are one of the most varied and necessary roles in the NHS and wider society.