A union is scaling up its campaign to get healthcare assistants (HCAs) the recognition and pay they deserve, as concerns grow about staff leaving for better paying jobs.
Unison is currently campaigning in more than 70 NHS trusts to win better pay for HCAs and it told Nursing Times that it had plans to go further.
“Healthcare assistants are regularly expected to perform clinical care roles without having this reflected in their wages”
The campaign has included case work to up-band individuals from band 2 to 3, as well as raising awareness for how they have been “working above their pay grade”.
Deputy head of health at Unison, Helga Pile, said employers focused too much on reducing costs, and failed to recognise the “true value” of HCAs.
“Healthcare assistants are regularly expected to perform clinical care roles without having this reflected in their wages,” Ms Pile said.
“Their salaries tend to be a whole band below what they should be paid given the complexity of these tasks.
“In more than 70 NHS trusts across England Unison’s campaigning to get healthcare assistants moved up a salary scale, so wages better match the work they do. These campaigns are set to spread.
“In some hospitals, the union has won up to five years’ back pay for these employees, worth up to £7,000 for each individual.
“Paying staff properly will help to stop them quitting for less stressful work in supermarkets and coffee shops, where they can often earn significantly more.”
A recent Care Quality Commission report highlighted how low pay for HCAs was a concern for not only HCAs themselves but nurses too.
The report, published on 15 May, was based on an inspection of University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, which was focused on leadership across the whole trust as well as surgery services at one of its hospitals.
“Staff were very worried about the impact this would have on patient safety”
Inspectors said: “A high number of nursing and medical staff told us about the significant value and invaluable support HCAs provided to clinical teams.
“There was a consistent theme in our conversations with staff relating to the potential loss of HCAs to other sectors due to the low pay, particularly the band 2 grades.
“Staff were very worried about the impact this would have on patient safety.”
Nurses told the CQC they had a “sincere wish” that the hospital trust made HCAs “feel more valued and recognised”, given the contributions they made in the organisation.
HCAs, themselves, told the CQC the same, and expressed concerns of low pay and feeling undervalued.
The report described the HCA concerns as being one of a number of “cultural issues” affecting University Hospitals Sussex, although noted that the trust was taking action to address these through a new “people’s strategy”.
Following publication of the report, trust chief executive Dr George Findlay said there had been “rapid progress” since the inspection in October 2022 on the various issues highlighted.
He said changes made included investment in better facilities, a new leadership structure, more recruitment at all levels, and a move towards a more open culture.
The trust told Nursing Times this week that it was now fully staffed.
However, the issues regarding HCAs are not unique to Sussex, and Unison’s ‘pay fair for patient care’ campaign covers trusts all over the UK.
In its campaign launch material, the union said: “While personal care remains a fundamental aspect of the healthcare support worker role, it’s undeniable that in many cases [HCAs] are taking on more responsibilities than ever before.
“In the NHS, nursing shortages mean that many healthcare support staff have been working above their pay grade. Without [them], clinical colleagues would not be able to carry out their roles.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare how much the NHS relies on healthcare support staff, who have worked tirelessly to care for extremely sick and vulnerable patients while being underpaid and undervalued. It’s high time you got the pay and recognition [HCAs] deserve.”