Healthcare assistants care for patients, working under the supervision of nurses, midwives and other health professionals.
The role is vital to patients' comfort. By attending to patients' basic but essential needs, healthcare assistants can make a big difference to their comfort and wellbeing. They also free up nurses and other clinical staff to take on more specialised tasks.
Healthcare assistants may work in hospitals or in community settings, such as care homes, hospices and patients' homes. The role can vary enormously depending on the setting and the patient's needs, but may include:
In addition to nurses, healthcare assistants may work with healthcare scientists, such as audiologists. They may also assist allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists, podiatrists, radiographers and occupational therapists. In these roles - where they are sometimes known as clinical support workers or therapy assistants - an assistant may:
- Prepare patients for clinics
- Set up equipment for use in diagnosis or treatment
- Assist during the treatment
- Help with keeping records
Besides close contact with patients and their supervising professionals, assistants also work with other staff, such as doctors, cleaners and ward clerks.
Healthcare assistants usually work 37.5 hours a week on a shift or rota system. This usually includes some night, weekend and bank holiday work.
Part-time and flexible work is often possible.
Healthcare assistants are found in a range of settings, including hospital wards and departments, health centres, clinics, residential care homes and nursing homes. Some travel to care for patients in their own homes, so a driving licence may be useful.
The job can be physically demanding. Healthcare assistants spend a lot of time on their feet and may have to lift and support patients. Sometimes special equipment is used to help them do this.
Healthcare assistants usually wear a uniform.
New entrants in the National Health Service (NHS) start on a salary of at least £12,922. NHS employees living in and around London are paid extra. Pay varies for healthcare assistants who work outside the NHS.
Healthcare assistants work in all parts of the UK. Most are employed by the NHS.
Other employers include:
As the role is increasingly recognised as an important part of the healthcare team, the number of assistants continues to grow.
Vacancies are found in Jobcentre Plus offices, Connexions centres and local newspapers. They are also advertised on the NHS jobs site, www.jobs.nhs.uk. It is often worth making direct contact with local employers about possible vacancies.
There are no set entry qualifications. Experience of paid or voluntary work in a care setting can be helpful.
Some health organisations run cadet schemes or offer Apprenticeships, allowing people to gain experience in different health settings.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Candidates have a medical check to ensure they are fit for the job. They also need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.
The Diploma in society, health and development may be relevant for this area of work. Other courses in health and social care, such as the applied GCSE and BTEC Certificates and Diplomas, may also be a useful preparation.
Ongoing training can include:
Healthcare assistants may have the opportunity to study for NVQ's in health or health and social care at Levels 2 and 3.
Laboratory technicians carry out routine laboratory tests and perform a variety of technical support functions to help scientists, technologists and others with their work. They can work in research and development, scientific analysis and testing, education and manufacturing.
They are employed in a wide range of scientific fields which affect almost every aspect of our lives.
A healthcare assistant must be:
Gaining experience as a healthcare assistant can be an entry route to many careers in the health sector.
On gaining NVQ Level 2 - healthcare assistants often take on extra responsibilities.
On gaining NVQ Level 3 - they meet the minimum requirements to train as a nurse.
Assistants with experience may be able to study part time for a foundation degree in a relevant subject, such as health and social care. This could pave the way to train in nursing or another healthcare profession.
There are also increasing opportunities to work as an assistant practitioner. These jobs involve more complex duties within specialist healthcare teams, eg in diabetes, mental health or district nursing. With experience and relevant qualifications, they may then be able to train for a profession in the field.
Healthcare assistants can join the Royal College of Nursing, which offers conferences and workshops aimed at those in assistant roles.
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Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.