There should be a shake-up in the role of NHS healthcare assistants to ensure that they are properly trained and regulated, according to Helen Jones, Labour MP for Warrington North.

Ms Jones said healthcare assistants had grown from an attempt by the previous government to 'run the NHS on the cheap'.

As a result the NHS failed to value them, and there was 'confusion' among trusts about healthcare assistants' role.

'It is time that we put an end to that confusion and looked clearly at the skills and competencies needed for healthcare assistants to perform their different roles,' Ms Jones told MPs in a recent adjournment debate.

Rather than the current 'dog's breakfast of a system', healthcare assistants' jobs needed to be put on 'a proper footing' with proper qualifications, and a national NVQ-linked training system.

Their tasks should be clearly defined - particularly those which should be supervised by qualified nurses.

Ms Jones called for regulation. 'No-one wants a system that is too bureaucratic, but it cannot be right to leave vulnerable people in hospital when there are not proper checks on the staff who are dealing with them.

'Nor can it be right that in extreme cases someone can be struck off the nursing register but can get a job a healthcare assistant dealing with vulnerable people,' she said.