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Training health care assistants is a “win-win” both for the unregulated workforce and for patients, says the nurse leader of Waikato District Health Board’s training programme. Being able to offer a qualification in-house for free to HCA’s – and completing it in around less than half the time of the usual training programme – has attracted interest from many DHB’s and other providers across the country, says Colleen Mellsop, the nursing coordinator for the DHB’s HCA training.

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Colleen Mellsop (front row, left) with HCA graduating class and fellow nurse educators Lyn Macleod (front row, right) and Widdowson (middle row, second from right)

Waikato first offered Careerforce’s Level 3 National Certificate in Health, Disability, and Aged Support as a pilot in 2011 and afterwards decided it could simplify and speed up the process to take less than the standard 10-12 month timeframe.

It had the resource material rewritten so it was both simplified and appropriate for HCAs working in the acute care sector.  The after another  pilot, offering the programme over just a six-month time frame,  Waikato’s Nursing and MIdwifery Professional Development Units worked closely with Careerforce to rewrite and condense the assessment material.

“In a nutshell, what we’ve done is made the qualification, we feel, more friendly and relevant for our HCA’s in this DHB,”  says Mellsop.

To date, 82 HCAs and therapy assistants have completed the revised six month Careerforce certificate, and 108 HCAs are in line to also do the qualification, which is promoted as ‘desirable’ but not compulsory, this year.  The programme is delivered over two formal study days and a half day for a practical assessment on moving and handling but the rest of the study is done in the HCA’s own time at home.

Registered nurses are also involved in the assessment process on the ward and while some RNs were reluctant at the additional workload, Mellsop said most had embraced the training programme.  “They see the enormous benefit for themselves because the HCA workforce is doing most of the basic personal cares on the patients.  So it really frees up the RN to focus on the other things they need to do.”

The board has a designated list of tasks that HCAs can or cannot do, and part of the training days stresses the importance of keeping themselves and their patients safe and how to say no to tasks they aren’t qualified to do.

“We talk about direction and delegation in reverse so they understand the concept and how it applies from their perspective.”

Mellsop says her involvement in the programme, which is delivered by herself and nurse educators Lyn Macleod and Jane Widdowson, who were extensively involved with its development, has been one of the most satisfying roles of her long nursing career. “I really think they are a workforce that’s been neglected from a learning perspective.  Sometimes they feel the RNs don’t treat them particularly well… and they get to do all the dirty jobs …

So it had been “really nice” to see HCAs achieve a qualification that makes them feel valued and validated and that they’ve really got a strong place in the health care team”.

Nursing Review series 2014 – Focus International Nurses Day

Updated on 12 May 2014