NHS patients are receiving an "unacceptable" level of care from unqualified healthcare assistants who are now responsible for nursing tasks in care homes, an independent commission reported.
Healthcare assistants are employed in order to carry out simple tasks such as keeping patients fed and hydrated and taking a temperature. But these healthcare assistants are not currently trained to identify and spot warning signs such as dehydration or changes in body heat.
The Willis Commission led by Lord Willis of Knaresborough, a Liberal Democrat peer, published these findings in the report in early November.
One of the report’s findings is that patients families do not always recognise the difference between nurses and unqualified healthcare staff and sometimes follow the advice of healthcare assistants without even realising they have no nursing expertise. The report also recommended that all healthcare assistants should be trained to at least NVQ level 3 in order to help deal with the issues and concerns on wards and in care homes.
The commission also announced in the report that it was unacceptable that staff whose competence is not regulated or monitored are caring for vulnerable citizens. And that it was equally unacceptable that registered nurses must take responsibility for supervising colleagues on whose competency they cannot rely. In 2011, the NHS in England employed more than 53,000 Healthcare Assistants, and numbers are increasing by 6% each year.
Figures released in October 2012 revealed that 43 hospital patients had starved to death and 11 died of thirst due to failures in the most basic levels of care on hospital wards, whilst 78 died from bedsores.
The report also calls for measures to improve the quality of placements undertaken by student nurses, and for newly qualified nurses to be given extra support during their first year.
A Department of Health spokesman said: "Public confidence is really important, however in the case of healthcare assistants, there is no evidence that compulsory regulation would lead to higher standards.
"They are supervised by professionally qualified staff, and often by experienced nurses. Regulation does not, in itself, change culture and is no substitute for proper performance management, good leadership and day to day high quality patient care."
It was also announced that a code of conduct and minimum training standards for healthcare support workers will be drawn up and created by January 2013.