If you are caring and compassionate and like the idea of offering hands-on care and having a lot of contact with patients, a job as a health care assistant (HCA) might be for you.
Where they work
Sometimes known as clinical support workers, nursing assistants, nursing auxiliaries or auxiliary nurses, HCAs work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, prisons, GP surgeries, care homes and hospices. A vital part of the nursing team, HCAs support registered nurses in the delivery of nursing care, and may work with infants, children and young people, the elderly, and those with mental health needs or learning disabilities.
What the job involves
As a healthcare assistant, you will work under the supervision and guidance of qualified nursing staff, and may also work alongside doctors, midwives and other healthcare professionals as part of the wider healthcare team. Day-to-day tasks will differ depending on where you work. If you are based in a hospital, typical duties may include:
- helping patients wash and dress
- serving meals and helping to feed patients
- making beds
- helping people to move around (using equipment to lift and move patients)
- talking to patients, making them comfortable and reassuring them
- tidying the ward
- monitoring patients’ conditions (taking temperatures, pulse, respirations and weight)
In a health centre or GP surgery, you may:
- sterilise medical equipment
- carry out health checks
- restock consulting rooms
- process lab samples
- take blood samples
- offer patients basic health education
Personal qualities and skills
A kind, caring and cheerful disposition is essential for the role. You must be happy to provide hands-on care, which includes helping patients with personal tasks such as washing and toileting. Good communication skills (including active listening), as well as organisation and observational skills are a necessity. You’ll need to have common sense and be able to use your own initiative, as well as follow procedures and work well within a team.
You don’t need any qualifications to work as a HCA – but in order to be hired as one, an employer will want to see that you have relevant experience or aptitude for the job.
Some employers ask for GCSEs (or equivalent) in English and maths, and may also require candidates to have a healthcare qualification, such as BTEC or NVQ.
If you don’t have any experience, such as caring for a relative, it’s worth volunteering or doing some work experience to give you an idea of whether the job is right for you. You may also find apprenticeships in healthcare that can give you experience to apply for HCA posts.
Some employers may require you to pass a background check from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
What training will I get on the job?
Your employer has a duty to ensure you’re provided with the training you need to do your job, and that you have been assessed as competent for your role. Although there are key areas of practice – such as basic life support, moving and handling, and safeguarding adults and children – the type of training you receive will depend on where you work. A HCA based in a mental health hospital will need different knowledge and skills to one in a GP surgery or working in a residential care home, for example.
Some organisations run formal induction schemes in-house, while others offer courses at further education colleges or through apprenticeships.
As part of your training, you may work towards the Care Certificate. You may also be offered the opportunity to study for qualifications such as the CACHE level 2 Certificate in Healthcare Support Services or CACHE level 2 or 3 Diploma in Clinical Healthcare Support.
How to get the job
If you have limited healthcare experience, be sure to emphasise all your transferable skills on your CV or application form, rather than the details of your previous jobs and education.
Read the person specification carefully, and use the same terminology as the employer, giving concrete examples to show how you meet each of the requirements.
For instance, rather than saying “I have good communication skills”, give an example of how you use communication skills in your current role and any positive feedback you’ve received from customers, colleagues, or patients.
The RCN has produced a handy guide to applications and interviews for those in HCA roles.
Working conditions and salary
HCAs usually work around 37.5 hours a week. You may do shifts, which could involve nights, early starts, evenings, bank holidays and weekends. If you’re based in the community, you’ll travel between patients’ homes, so may need to drive and have your own transport.
HCAs working for the NHS are paid on the Agenda for Change pay system. You would typically start at AfC band 2 (starting at £15,251). With further training and experience, you could apply for posts at bands 3 and 4 as an assistant practitioner (£16,800 – £22,458). Terms and conditions vary in the private sector. As a general guide, you can expect to earn around £15,000 to £18,000 when starting out – and up to £20,000 with experience.
With experience and further training, you could apply for senior healthcare assistant posts. You could then train as an assistant practitioner, or work towards gaining the appropriate qualifications to become a healthcare professional, such as a nurse, podiatrist or midwife.