Health & Social Care
Career insights: Become a Healthcare Assistant
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Working as a Healthcare Assistant (HCA) or an Assistant Practitioners (AP) in the UK is a rewarding and fulfilling career. HCAs and APs are both integral roles in a hospital or surgery’s nursing team. They assist doctors and nurses, and provide an expert level of care to patients in all healthcare disciplines.
Healthcare assistants can be found in all kinds of medical fields, including the criminal justice system, in schools, mental health facilities, and learning disability clinics. They support registered nurses in all kinds of ways, assisting them in their work with older people, children, young people, adults, and infants.
In order to be an effective and successful HCA, you must have adequate training and regular supervision, something that your employer has a duty to provide. Each country in the UK has their own HCA standards and training guidance on a variety of topics. For instance, information about immunisation standards can be found at this link.
What Is A Healthcare Assistant?
The title ‘Healthcare Assistant’ is usually given to those who work in care homes, hospitals, NHS Trusts, and GP surgeries. Healthcare Assistants are sometimes referred to as Nursing Assistants and/or Nursing Auxiliary. You might also see or hear the terms Carer, Domiciliary Carer, or Support Worker.
If you are working in an NHS setting, the term Healthcare Assistant is most common. However, if you are working in a client’s home, or in a social care environment, you might be referred to as care assistants or support workers.
HCAs perform a wide variety of tasks, and a nurse or senior carer supervises them to ensure that they perform their duties correctly. This supervision also prevents them from being asked by doctors or patients to do tasks for which they are not trained.
They assist other healthcare professionals in ways that make caring for the patient easier. Their patient care tasks include washing, dressing, toileting, meal times, and reassuring individuals and their families in times of pain and stress. They help to maintain a person’s dignity and comfort, even when they are undergoing complicated medical interventions.
These tasks might sound simple, but it is important to remember that they actually underpin the overall care of a patient. HCAs fill a vital and respected role in healthcare.
What Does A Healthcare Assistant Do?
As Healthcare Assistants, you are an important part of the healthcare team that supports both medical staff and patients throughout a hospital, GP Surgery, or out in the community. Your duties will be delegated and supervised by qualified nursing staff, working with you to provide support and care to patients and their families.
Some of your daily tasks and duties might include:
- Cleaning equipment and keeping departments clean.
- Making beds on a ward.
- Assisting patients and ensuring that they are physically comfortable, including emptying bedpans, helping them to the toilet, or helping them get washed.
- Taking basic observations, including temperature and blood pressure, and recording this data.
- Helping patients with mobility issues to move around, perhaps taking them for a short walk.
- Listening to patients and providing an empathetic ear
HCAs that work in a community NHS environment or in a hospital will often receive additional training. They often learn how to take patients’ temperatures, respiratory rate, blood oxygen level, and pulse. Some even go on to learn venepuncture (withdrawing blood), giving immunisations, and bladder catheterisation.
Is Being a Healthcare Assistant The Right Career For You?
In order to be successful in a career as a healthcare assistant, you must enjoy helping people. Your patients might be going through a sad, frightening, painful, or otherwise difficult time, and one of your roles will be to provide comfort, cheer, and hands-on help and care. Do you think you have the right personal characteristics to be a good healthcare assistant?
What personality traits and skills do you need to be a healthcare assistant?
If you want to succeed in a career working as an HCA, you should possess the following skills and personality traits.
- Be caring, compassionate and kind.
- Have a cheerful and friendly demeanour that puts people at ease.
- Willing to help patients in a hands-on way.
- Able to follow instructions and medical procedures.
- Will to help patients with their personal care (washing, toileting, etc.) in a dignified and respectful way.
- Enjoy working within a team, but have your own initiative.
- Strong communication skills, including being a good and empathetic listener.
- Excellent organisational skills, including keeping your workspace clean and tidy.
How Much Does A Healthcare Assistant Earn?
According to Indeed, the average Healthcare Assistant working within the NHS will earn approximately £18,581 per year . This number can increase based on acquiring additional education and more experience.
Adzuna reports a slightly higher annual average salary for Healthcare Assistants, at £20,722. They also report that the pay for Healthcare Assistant job listings have increased year on year, with an average of a 1.4% salary increase annually.
What Qualifications Do You Need To Become A Healthcare Assistant?
While there are no set qualifications or requirements to become a Healthcare Assistant, you should have good literacy and numeracy. Some employers will also ask you for GCSEs (or equivalent) in English and maths.
Having healthcare qualifications is always a good idea, and will benefit you greatly as you carry out your duties. Some beneficial distance home learning courses include Health and Social Care Level 3.
Similarly, the CACHE Level 3 Award in Health and Social Care RQF has been designed for people who are new to the healthcare sector. It provides a broad and comprehensive awareness about how to work with patients across different age groups and medical needs.
When you are hired, you will then receive ‘on the job’ training from your supervisors. This training will include basic nursing skills. You’ll also receive guidance on how to work towards your Care Certificate. The Care Certificate was developed and implemented in 2015, in order to meet the requirements set forth by the Cavendish Review. It was developed by Skills for Care, Skills for Health and Health Education England.
How to become a Healthcare Assistant
- Start your journey by thinking about the skills and personality traits required You need a lot of patience, a calm demeanour, and the willingness to do a lot of hard work. Is working as a Healthcare Assistant the best career for you?
- Next, think about the education you will need to become a Healthcare Assistant. While you do not need a set qualification to be hired, employers prefer people who have a GCSE (or equivalent) in Maths and English. You can also acquire Health and Social Care course qualifications.
- Think about the environment in which you would most like to work. Do you want to care for an individual patient in their home, or work with many older adults in a care facility? Do you prefer working with children, or do you have an interest in working with adults with disabilities? Your answers to these questions will help you determine where you should apply.
- Consider volunteering in a healthcare related capacity, such as with older adults or children in need. Look into apprenticeships with your local NHS or in the private sector. Getting experience in the industry will help you land a job as a Healthcare Assistant.
- Put together a CV that focuses on your relevant healthcare experience and education, and start assessing job listings in the private sector, or with the NHS.
- Once you are hired, work on obtaining your Care Certificate. Obtain letters of recommendation from your supervisors, and volunteer for any and all career progression opportunities.
Career Progression and Opportunities
Healthcare Assistants have many career progression opportunities in their line of work. Some people find so much value in their work that they choose to stay an HCA for their whole career. Others use their job as a stepping stone to Band 4 or Band 5 roles.
According to the Royal College of Nursing, there are three main pathways to more advanced roles. Consider upskilling to one of the following:
- Nursing Associate: Nursing Associates bridge the gap between other healthcare support worker and registered nurses. This is a Level 5 Apprenticeship. Nursing Associates can go on to complete a shortened degree to become a Registered Nurse.
- Nursing Apprenticeship: This is a relatively new pathway, only available in England and Wales. It enables people to train to be a graduate Registered Nurse by training on the job, being paid the entire time. You will reach a band 5 upon completion..
- Assistant Practitioner: As an Assistant Practitioner, you will take on more responsibilities than a Healthcare Assistant. This is an 18 – 24 month programme that is paid at a band 3 during training, and a band 4 upon completion.
Do you have what it takes to be a Healthcare Assistant?
With on-the-job training, online courses, and plenty of room to advance, working as a Healthcare Assistant is a rewarding and challenging career. Do you have what it takes?
Adzuna. (2018). Health care assistant salary stats | How Much Does a Health care assistant Make? | Adzuna. [online] Available at: https://www.adzuna.co.uk/jobs/salaries/health-care-assistant [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].Care certificate (2017). Care certificate. [online] Health Education England. Available at: https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/care-certificate [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
Care certificate (2017). Care certificate. [online] Health Education England. Available at: https://www.hee.nhs.uk/our-work/care-certificate [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
National Minimum Standards and Core Curriculum for Immunisation Training of Healthcare Support Workers. (n.d.). [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/464033/HCSW_Training_Standards_September_2015.pdf [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
NHS (2019). NHS Healthcare Assistant Salaries in the United Kingdom | Indeed.co.uk. [online] Indeed.co.uk. Available at: https://www.indeed.co.uk/salaries/Healthcare-Assistant-Salaries-at-Nhs [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
Nurses.co.uk. (2018). How to become a healthcare assistant with no formal care experience. [online] Available at: https://www.nurses.co.uk/nursing/blog/how-to-become-a-healthcare-assistant-with-no-formal-care-experience/.
The Royal College of Nursing. (2017). Career paths for HCAs | Royal College of Nursing. [online] Available at: https://www.rcn.org.uk/professional-development/your-career/hca/career-paths-for-hcas [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].