Nursing assistants: Giving responsibility to care staff and providing a better service to care home residents

By Alison Innes-Farquhar, Director of People Development, HC-One (care home provider)

Featured article – 11 September 2015

Photo of Alison Innes-Farquhar

Walt was sick and tired of dealing with unfamiliar agency nurses that were sent to look after his wife, Margaret, who has Alzheimer’s. Walt’s happier now because a new role of ‘nursing assistant’ has been established at Margaret’s care home in Nottingham. It’s an HC-One home and we’re excited that trainee nursing assistants are now taking on some of the roles that nurses have predominately done. The Care Assistant Development Programme has been in place since early spring and to date we have over 100 Nursing Assistants in training, or already in post. Walt tells us that having Nursing Assistants in post makes him feel more comfortable, as they know his wife better and they know her needs.

Currently, there’s a lack of nurses in health and social care and that means that the use of temporary agency nurses is high, having an effect on continuity of care. I spoke to one of our nursing assistants recently, who summed up the work they do: "I currently give medicines out, help on the floor, complete social work reviews and generally look after the well-being of the residents, whether that‘s assisting with eating and drinking, personal care or helping the day-to-day running of the floor. We are supported by a nurse mentor throughout the programme which gives us the confidence to carry out these tasks and spend more time with residents".

SCIE is conducting an independent evaluation of the Care Assistant Development Programme which they will report on early next year. SCIE’s chief executive, Tony Hunter, says that "the initiative sends a great message out about creating a pathway for senior carers to step up and receive training opportunities to work alongside nurses."

We believe that this makes the staff more involved in, and accountable for, the care of residents and that it offers career opportunities that didn’t exist before. Along with this, we believe that the residents are receiving better, more consistent care. Nursing assistants are able to recognise changes, or early signs and symptoms that a resident might be displaying, which tells them something may be wrong or has changed. For instance, a resident’s speech could become slurred. Often, clinical errors can happen because agency staff can be introduced too quickly to residents and are unfamiliar to their needs.

HC-One staff surveys show how important it is to feel valued and also to be able to make a difference to the lives of the people we care for. The Care Assistants Development Programme lets us show just how much we value these staff, and the really important role they play in delivering the kindest care to residents. We’ve also found that many staff in support roles have been fulfilling a role that was far beyond the remit of their job description. These colleagues have shown fantastic dedication and we want to reflect that amazing commitment and support their career development, using their knowledge, skills and experience.

Back to Walt, who says: "I’ve noticed since the new role came in that tasks are getting done much quicker and the nurses have more support. They have involved me as a relative in what has been happening and I appreciate that.”

Notes about the programme

To join the programme, senior carers need to demonstrate a strong commitment to learning, complete tough competency-based written tests and complete a comprehensive work book. Nursing Assistants get an increased hourly rate and a nurse mentor to support them.

To undergo the training, a certain set of criteria must be met before applying for the role. Compliance in all current learning, including the administration of medicines, completion or be in the process of completing an NVQ Level 3, and have worked in Health or Social care sector for a minimum of two years, are all essential. When selected they will go through a process of interview and written assessment, after which they can proceed to the next level which is enrolment to become a Nursing Assistant in training.