- 10 February 2020
- 5 min read
How to become a Healthcare Assistant with no formal care experience
Care Assistants exist in all specialisms of nursing and healthcare, and they can perform a wide range of tasks according to training and experience.
Updated 27th July 2020
Topics covered in this article
The job of a care assistant is often the first step onto a career ladder that can open you up to a whole world of opportunities that you never knew existed.
Some people begin the role and enjoy the patient contact so much that they remain in that role for the rest of their working life. Others use it as a stepping stone onto other careers. Either way, becoming a care assistant is an important and rewarding job. In this article we look at how to become a care assistant and what qualifications and career opportunities exist.
The different roles of a Care Assistant
A care assistant is a job title most often associated with staff employed by a care home - hospitals, GP surgeries and NHS Trusts employ Healthcare Assistants.
The same role can be known as a Nursing Assistant or Nursing Auxiliary – although these terms are less widely used today.
Some organisations also use the following terms: Carer, Domiciliary Carer or Support Worker.
Each role is defined by the environment it is based in but all of them essentially involve a similar set of tasks.
The main difference is whether you are working in a medical, primary or secondary care environment such an NHS setting (where we tend to call them Healthcare Assistants or HCAs), or in a social care environment such as a care home or the client’s own home (where we tend to call them Care Assistants or Support Workers).
What do Healthcare Assistants do?
HCAs are delegated tasks according to their competence to perform them and will be supervised either by a Nurse in a hospital setting or by a Senior Carer or supervisor in domiciliary (patient home) or residential setting.
These tasks will be aimed at underpinning the care of the patient.
Providing and supporting a patient with personal care such as washing, dressing and toileting is common – as is assisting with eating and drinking.
The role involves helping to provide and maintain the patient in an acceptable level of comfort and dignity whilst they are in your care.
There will be an element of documentation involved and HCAs are required to keep the Nurse or Senior Carer informed about any changes or concerns about the patient.
HCAs are given a period of training before they undertake these tasks without direct supervision and support from a senior member of staff.
HCAs based in a hospital or community NHS environment often go on to receive training to be able to take baseline observations such as blood pressure, temperature, pulse, respiratory rate and blood oxygen level.
After additional training, there are usually opportunities to learn venepuncture (taking blood) and occasionally catheterisation of the bladder.
How to become a Care Assistant
Care Assistants are much in demand in the current climate. With an aging population and a growing shortage of care staff available to look after them, with the right skills, the world can be your oyster once you have some experience.
But how do you get that experience?
The first step is to look for a job posting for a care assistant.
This can be in the NHS, social services or a private organisation such as a care home.
Once you have found a job that looks interesting, it is always advisable to contact the advertiser or given person on the advert.
This will give you the opportunity to find out more about the role and have an informal visit before you commit to applying for the post.
It can also demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in the job before you get invited for interview and give you an advantage over other applicants.
When it comes to interview, make sure that you have researched the organisation and have an understanding of what the job may involve.
As a new HCA, you will be required to undertake the Care Certificate which was first introduced in 2015 after the Cavendish Review identified the need to ensure that all care staff had a standardised approach to their training.
This is a work-based training programme that trains new care workers in the skills they will need to perform the role.
What skills and traits do you need to be a Healthcare Assistant?
The primary skill needed in care is that of communication.
How you speak to and listen to those in your care is at the very core of the job.
You are dealing with vulnerable people who need you to treat them with compassion and dignity.
If you’ve worked in customer services or retail, you’ll have lots of transferable skills.
Equally, simply being a parent, caring for older family members or babysitting younger children can demonstrate skills that can replicated into care work.
It is not uncommon that at interview, you get asked to explain what you feel the meaning of ‘compassion,’ ‘care,’ or ‘dignity’ might be.
What qualifications does a Care Assistant need?
There are no basic entry qualifications required to become an HCA.
You will receive all the training you require as part of your first 6mths in post.
Most places offer a 6mth probationary period to new starters to allow you to familiarise yourself with the role and be supported.
Once you are established in your role and have completed the Care Certificate, your employer should offer you the opportunity to undertake further training to advance your career.
There are multiple types of qualifications that you can undertake to enhance your training, each specific to the environment that you are working in and therefore it is worth asking at interview what opportunities there are for you to progress.
These days, it is possible to embark on a nursing career whilst working as an HCA in a healthcare setting as you can undertake both nurse apprenticeships and nurse associate training.
It is also possible that you will decide that nursing is not your choice of career but the experience of being an HCA will allow you to transfer the skills you’ve learned into other areas of employment and training.
Having care work as a basis opens lots of doors in other aspects of healthcare such as physiotherapy, paramedic training, pharmacy, and medicine.
If you get confused between care assistants and healthcare assistants (don't worry - there's a fine line which is easily blurred) then take a look at our blogs:-
what is the difference between a healthcare assistant and a care assistant and the difference between healthcare assistants (HCAs) and care assistants - which should help clear up the confusion for you.
How much do Healthcare Assistants get paid?
Healthcare Assistants working in the NHS start at a Band 2 salary – which is currently £18,005 a year.
This is rising each year for the next two years.
With further training and experience, you can easily move into Band 3 (starting salary of £19,337) or Band 4 (starting salary of £21,892).
A higher rate of pay is offered for working evenings, weekends and other unsociable hours.
In the private sector, Care Assistant pay is less regulated and varies widely.
The only guarantee is that it will be at or above the National Minimum Wage.
But the latest data suggests that the average hourly salary is £8.15, and the average annual pay range is anywhere between £15,000 and £21,000.
Broadly speaking, working for the NHS offers a better and more secure benefits package.
But with healthcare assistants now heavily in demand in the public and private sector, some private care providers are working harder to attract new employees. So which sector is better to work in isn’t a clear-cut choice.
Your best bet is to look at a range of options and positions in both sectors, and make a decision not just based on salary but location, your ongoing career and your work-life balance.