04th August 2015 Written by Ian Wheeler

Image: Assistant practitioners.The UK health sector is dealing with two opposing forces: increased demand for health care, and secondly, a downward pressure on resources.

With staffing the largest single item of healthcare expenditure, the question is how can people be developed to provide more and better care within a restricted budget? Support workers make up around 17% of the healthcare workforce and for every one per cent shift in activity towards the support workforce, around £100 million could be saved annually.

Skills for Health has been exploring how employers can use their support workforce more efficiently.

As a result, there is a growing interest in the assistant practitioner (AP) role as a part of the skills mix repertoire.

The principles underpinning the role are:

  • Consistent banding
  • Work across traditional boundaries
  • Locally defined
  • Sufficiently flexible to encourage innovation

These principles combine to form a role that is responsive to employer needs, challenges traditional hierarchies and demonstrates that intermediate level skills have an important role in high quality care and increased productivity.

The AP is not to be in charge of diagnosis or the design of a patient’s care programme but he or she is able to work within defined parameters, delivering many necessary activities for which they are signed off as competent within local protocols.

Defining the AP role

The assistant practitioner delivers health and/or social care, and has knowledge and skills beyond that of the traditional healthcare assistant or support worker but can deliver health and social care that was previously undertaken by registered professionals.

The AP role may transcend professional boundaries and APs accountable to themselves, their employer and, more importantly, the people they serve.

The role equates to level 4 on the career framework and Agenda for Change pay band 4.

Benefits of the semi-autonomous AP role

  • Cost and time efficient
  • Trained to fit into most organisational structures
  • Free up clinical colleagues to undertake more complex tasks