If you've never worked as a healthcare assistant before, here's how to get an HCA Job and develop your career in healthcare. About Matt Farrah - follow me on Google+

Caring is a career that people come to at various different points in life, some straight from school, others later on in life after a previous career. It’s one of the most hands on jobs you can do in a profession that everyone will encounter at some point, and it offers the chance to have a real impact on a person’s life at a time when they need it most. Healthcare assistant jobs exist in all specialisms of nursing and healthcare, but the job roles often have different titles according to the setting.

Healthcare assistants are usually Band 2 or Band 3 in the NHS and are either ward or clinic based. They work in all areas of healthcare and can perform a wide range of tasks according to training and experience. A care assistant or carer is usually the title given to a similar role when it’s based in a care or residential home.

Role of a Healthcare Assistant

A healthcare assistant, or HCA as it’s commonly shortened to, is an essential part of any healthcare environment. In a ward situation, a HCA will be responsible for the basic care of the patients. They will assist with washing, toileting, changing and making beds and helping patients dress or mobilise around the ward. A more experienced HCA, possibly with the NVQ 3 qualification, is also able to take simple observations such as blood pressure and temperature. Some HCAs are also qualified phlebotomists and are able to take blood from patients that require tests to be carried out.

HCAs are also sometimes clinic based, so for example there may be a healthcare assistant working in a renal unit that patients attend for dialysis treatment. In this situation they will often prepare the patients for their treatment, assist with setting up any equipment as directed by the senior practitioner, usually a nurse, and facilitate all record keeping to ensure patients records are updated regularly.

How to become a healthcare assistant

It can be quite difficult to get a job as a healthcare assistant because more attractive candidates have experience in the role, but you can’t get experience if you can’t get a job. Traditionally care jobs in the community, in particular residential and nursing homes are more widely available and they are the way some people get experience before they move on to a clinical setting. Even the experience of caring for a family member is usually enough to demonstrate you have the capability and passion to become a healthcare assistant.

You don’t require any specific qualification to be a healthcare assistant in any setting, and if you’re applying for a healthcare assistant job with no formal training you should be offered an introductory period where you will learn the skills for the job. If you are accepted for the role, you can also study for qualifications as you work.

Prior to August 2010, the Health and Social Care NVQs in level 2 and 3 were the industry standard for healthcare assistants and senior healthcare assistants. They were awarded though local colleges in conjunction with the employer and allowed HCAs to progress their careers, and in the NHS they could move up a pay band. The NVQ qualifications are being updated with new Common Induction Standards (CIS) and will migrate from the National Qualifications (NQF) Framework to the new Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) by the end of 2010. The new courses that are replacing the NVQs will be available from the beginning of 2011 and there will be different requirements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

There have also been new courses introduced in September 2010 that will offer healthcare assistants the opportunity to improve their awareness of dementia and become certificated in dementia care up to level 3 standard. This will allow HCAs to specialise for the first time to care for a particular group of patients with very complex needs.

It’s worth remembering that if you can’t find a permanent HCA job in your local NHS trust, you may be able to apply for bank work. Becoming a bank healthcare assistant means you will be employed the NHS Professionals, and your details will remain on their database as available whenever there is work. The application process involves an interview, an enhanced CRB check, occupational health check and a professional reference. Once all your details are confirmed you will be booked in for a training day where you will learn all the skills you will need. You can then accept shifts as they become available and you will be placed where there is work. Of course, you don’t have to accept of the shifts offered to you, but it’s a good idea to experience as many different environments as you can to get a better understanding of which area you might want to work in if a permanent vacancy were to arise. Equally if you like the flexible way of working that being part of NHS professionals offers, then there is no reason why you can’t continue to work for them throughout your career.

Once you’ve got your first healthcare assistant job, you’re on the way to career progression. Whether the role is as a care assistant in a residential home or in a clinic, it’s all valuable experience, and qualifies you to study on any of the vocational courses available.