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Six key qualifications for healthcare assistants (HCAs)

Health care assistants (HCAs) are often described as the foundations of general practice and work under the guidance of qualified health care professionals. The roles of HCAs in practices largely depend on the patient demand and the level of care required in that area.  Posts generally range from support workers to treatment room nurses, nursing assistants, clinical support workers and practice nurses.  

As with any role, it is a combination of different factors that leads to the employment of a person. In my experience as a practice manager, an applicant’s qualifications alone weren’t the ‘dealbreaker’ as much as it was important to the role. If the HCA role allows qualifications to be gained whilst at work, then a person’s overall attitude, work ethic and personality is as important as fitting in with the wider practice team.

Here are some of the key qualifications to look for.

1 Diploma in Health and Social Care Level 2 - City and Guilds

At Level 2, the Diploma in Health and Social Care is undertaken by people wanting to embark on a career in care or for people who already work as HCAs and want to increase their responsibilities. Assessments are done via work-based scenarios or at work. HCAs who have undertaken this level of the diploma will be able to demonstrate any of the specific skills and knowledge in: supporting people with disabilities, working with babies and young children and helping people to eat and drink.

2 Diploma in Health and Social Care Level 3 - City and Guilds

This level of the diploma indicates a more experienced applicant as it is generally undertaken by existing healthcare assistants who want to move into a senior HCA role. HCAs with this key qualification are found to have been entrusted with some responsibility at work that entails working without supervision. Similar to the level 2 diploma, assessments are done via work-based scenarios or at the candidate’s workplace.

3 CACHE - Council for Awards in Care, Health and Education

CACHE is the leading specialist awarding organisation for the care and education sector. The health and social care qualifications from CACHE range from Levels 1 to 5 and are designed for people wanting to work with or who are already working with adults, children and young people in health or social work settings.

In addition or separate to the Level 1 to 5 qualifications, HCAs might also have undertaken, shorter, more specialist courses by CACHE such as Paediatric First Aid, Assisting and Moving of Individuals, Prevention and Control of Infection And Food Safety and Nutrition, which are available in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and cover both settings for children and young people and settings for adult patients. These shorter, specialist courses can often act as a springboard for those individuals who want to enter the HCA role as an apprentice.

4 Qualifications gained through apprenticeships

As a practice manager you may come across an applicant who could be the perfect fit within your practice’s existing team, but this person might just be starting out as a HCA and may not have all the key qualifications desired for the role.

HCAs or senior HCAs can enter this line of work through an apprenticeship that helps them gain qualifications such as the Level 2 or Level 3 diploma in health and social care, especially as these qualifications are assessed in work-based settings or simulated work environments. Organisations such as CACHE and City and Guilds have apprenticeship opportunities listed on their websites that provide learners with the knowledge and skills needed to work in a variety of health and social care settings. For example, CACHE offers an intermediate and advanced level apprenticeship in health and social care (England).

5 Open University (OU) qualifications

An OU foundation degree in health and social care provides applicants with a sound and critical understanding of policy, theory and practice. Candidates who undertake this degree might choose pathways depending on their career aspirations and areas of interest. The degree begins at stage one which is an introduction to health and social care, within which students examine the experience of giving and receiving care in hospitals, clinics or GP surgeries; within the family and community; and in residential settings.

The Certificate of Higher Education in Healthcare Practice is a qualification at undergraduate level and is for health care support staff. Applicants who have applied for a HCA post with this qualification will demonstrate progression in numeracy, literacy, IT, communication and cognitive skills, as well as a range of practical skills and competencies. This qualification also enables the development of knowledge, skills and competencies needed to work as a health care assistant, health care support worker, aspiring assistant practitioner or student of nursing. 

6 NVQ Certificate or Diploma in Health and Social Care (Level 2 or 3)

This is a nationally recognised, work-based qualification. The level 2 certificate is aimed at home care assistants, care workers who support and assist individuals, community support assistants and residential or day care assistants. The level 3 diploma is aimed at more senior level candidates who are involved in specialist tasks with supervisory or developmental responsibility for other care workers. 

Ruth Long is the general manager at First Practice Management