Becoming a healthcare assistant (HCA) was a straightforward process. It consisted of several seminars, a half-day course in moving and handling and various online classes about care work. Within two weeks I was on my first shift. The job of the HCA is to do the manual and administrative labour that nurses and doctors don’t have time to do. This means taking care of patients’ personal hygiene, taking observations at regular intervals (blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation and so on), and helping patients to eat, drink and use the bathroom. We are also trained to administer CPR, and to operate a defibrillator in emergencies. The role is paid a basic rate of about £19,000 at entry level, and there is limited scope for career advancement.
The eight months I spent on the wards has enabled me to understand what it was like on the frontline of the NHS. It has shown me how much patient care suffers in a system in which underpaid, overworked health workers are forced to deliver care without proper staffing.
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