In the UK, healthcare assistants play a central and indispensable role within both the NHS and private healthcare environments. Their’s is a job of incredible importance as they provide the bedrock upon which patient care of the highest standard is delivered and maintained.
But what exactly do they do? Where do they work ? What do they do? and how do you become one? We will answer all these questions and more in this guide.
What is a healthcare assistant?
This is a broad wide ranging term, which encapsulates a large number of people working in every healthcare environment and even within the home. They work under the guidance of qualified healthcare professionals (usually nurses) to deliver vital assistance in the provision of care which can create a wide ranging set of job duties.
Ultimately the activities involved in your job will depend upon the area of healthcare within which you are working, but generally speaking some of the things that you could be expected to carry out on a day to day basis include;
- Taking a very active role in the physical care of patients and helping to ensure their comfort. This can include helping them to wash, dress and eat.
- Helping to turn patients to make them more comfortable and avoid bed sores
- Ensuring that all areas are kept clean and tidy and assisting with the daily housekeeping including the changing of beds.
- Taking and recording basic patient observations including; temperature, oxygen saturation levels and blood pressure.
- Providing mobility assistant to patients
- Listening and talking to patients.
- Carrying out basic administration and IT tasks
As is the case with any healthcare occupation, the skills and personal attributes which are needed in order to have a valuable and successful career are numerous. Being a healthcare assistant requires a special kind of person; a caring person, a hard working person and a person who is always willing to go above and beyond the call of duty to ensure the safety and comfort of those they are caring for.
It is not the most glamourous of roles and can be messy, so you need to be a person who is able to get stuck-in and isn’t overly squeamish about the human body.
Of course their is no defining list of skills and attributes which are needed to make the perfect healthcare assistant, but here are some which will certainly come in useful;
- A strong work ethic
- An understanding of the importance of the work that you do both to your patients and the professionals you work with
- A kind, compassionate nature with the ability to be a calming and reassuring influence on patients
- An understanding that the role of health care assistant is one which is not simply centred on practical duties, but that a major part of the role is interaction with patients and making them feel at ease
- Discretion, tact and sensitivity
- The desire to work in an environment which will require you to operate as both an individual and as a member of a team
- A good level of physical fitness, since the role of health care assistant is a rather active one
- The ability to work a shift pattern which will include evenings, weekends and public holidays.
Working hours and salary
The vast majority of healthcare assistants in the UK are employed by the National Health Service, although a significant proportion are employed by private healthcare providers.
Generally those working within the NHS will be employed on a full time basis and will work on average 37.5 hours per week. The 24 / 7 nature of the job means that most healthcare assistants work in accordance with a 12 hour shift pattern which will include evenings, weekends and public holidays. That being said, there are also opportunities for health care assistants which have a more standard working week, including roles within clinics and those providing care to patients in the community.
The salary that you can expect to receive depends on a number of factors including how much experience you have and who your employer is. Generally speaking though, within the NHS you can expect your starting salary to be around £14,000 – £16,000 per annum and with significant experience this could rise to around £19,000 (but don’t forget to check with individual employers before applying)
You do not need to hold any specific qualifications to find a job as a healthcare assistant. There are a number of courses which you could complete in order to give your career a boost, of which the most relevant is the Level 2 Diploma in Health and Social Care. If you don’t hold this your employer may encourage you to complete it (or similar) once you have begun working.
In many areas you will be able to become a healthcare assistant through the apprenticeship scheme so be sure to check with your local college to see if these is an option for you.
The most important thing that an employer will take into account when considering your application is how well you display the attributes necessary to become a healthcare assistant.
The employer will want to see evidence of your skills of; communication, dedication, hard work, team work and your ability to adapt to working within a healthcare environment.
Training and Development
Much of the training for the role of health care assistant takes place on the job. Some of the things that you will be trained in include; clinical hygiene, techniques for lifting and moving patients, health and safety, measuring and recording pulse, temperature, breathing and weight
Many employers will also encourage you to pursue further qualifications such as the Certificate / Diploma in Healthcare Support Services or Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support which will increase your skills base, experience and employability.
As you gain experience you may be able to progress to the role of assistant practitioner which would place you at level 4 of the NHS career framework. Assistant practitioners roles include occupational therapy assistant, diabetes team assistant, expert patient coordinator, assistant theatre practitioner, primary care worker in mental health, IT support worker, assistant practitioner.
If you still fancy becoming a healthcare assistant then good luck, we hope that you have found this quick guide useful. You might also like to check out some of the other great career guides in our career directory.