13th October 2015 Written by Ian Wheeler

Image: Support workforce.The UK’s healthcare support workforce, which accounts for over 40% of workers, is all too often overlooked, receiving relatively little attention in terms of role development, job enrichment and training. And this is despite the huge contribution they make to the day to day delivery of frontline patient care.

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Our research (How we can act now to create a high quality support workforce in the UK’s health sector) and direct experience with health sector employers demonstrates how, with good planning, and with the support of colleagues and line mangers, support workers can;

  • extend their activities
  • improve patient experience
  • relieve pressures on registered colleagues. 

Efficiency’s and savings

Effective use can improve productivity and efficiency and we estimate that for every 1% in the shift of activities from ‘registered’ to ‘non-registered’ colleagues, around £100m could be saved in the UK’s health sector. 

Awareness is growing around the importance of better training and development of the support workforce.  The establishment of the Care Certificate as part of a support workers induction has highlighted core standards to which support workers are required to meet before they can provide care.  Standards such as these are important in improving patient safety and experience. 

But let’s not forget that the roles of support workers and what they can provide are broad. Some ‘entry level’ support roles provide much needed routine services, whilst other more experienced and qualified support workers are able to work across a breadth of activities to a high technical standard with a degree of autonomy.    

Successions Planning

Yes, there is a wide range of suitable training and development activities available to support workers in the sector such as; Apprenticeships/Higher Apprenticeships, Diplomas, QCF qualifications alongside short courses, e-learning, coaching and mentoring, which are all widely used. However, these efforts on skills development must be matched by a concerted effort on the part of employers to create high quality rewarding support roles. And ideally progression into ‘registered’ roles if candidates feel inspired and equipped to do so…

This kind of development and refinement of actual roles is hugely important. Without the utilisation of skills at work, skills can degrade, support workers can become demotivated, managers and leaders can find themselves questioning why they invest in these roles?   Without progression, those trying to deliver health and social care can find their options for succession planning curtailed.   

Ask yourself;

  • What are the needs of patients both now and perhaps in the future?
  • What is the ‘skills mix’ that I need to deliver the service?
  • Is there an opportunity to use a high quality support role? and ‘Can these roles relieve some of the pressures from the registered workforce?

Change Management

High quality change management techniques are key for the long term success of these roles.  Time after time, in our work we see one of the most important ‘success’ features in using support workers is giving clarity to them and the teams that they work within about their roles and responsibilities. What they can and what they can’t do.  Such clarity will reduce the anxieties of colleagues in registered roles and provide a mandate for effective delegation of the right tasks that are within the scope of practice and competence of the support worker.  In turn those working in more advanced level support worker roles will be able to work at a ‘semi-autonomous’ level within the care plans of individuals.

Another key element in the successful development of support workers is, as with many change management processes, the commitment of senior people to the venture.  A plan of action, and a commitment to provide resources.

There are many areas of excellent practices by employers who are elevating the roles of support workers and demonstrating what they are capable of.   With ongoing development, support worker roles can help the sector provide efficient and high quality health care and assist in helping the sector make productivity gains. 

But let’s just be clear, there is still a need for concerted action from employers throughout the sector to create real depth and breadth in these roles. 

Ian Wheeler, Head of Research and Evaluation

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