A scheme that gives unpaid job seekers the chance to provide patient care in the wards of a hospital is set to be extended, it has emerged.

The initiative, which provides opportunities for unemployed people to gain work experience, looks likely to be extended by Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust to two other hospitals.

A pilot, which let six people without jobs clean wards and feed patients during eight-week placements, has now been completed successfully by the trust.

The trust was keen to stress that the positions provided through the scheme are not nursing positions. However, it added that they do help to support healthcare patients as they progress through the hospital experience.

During the trial version of the scheme, Sandwell College offered two weeks of training to those taking part. All the participants were CRB-checked before they were allowed to work in hospital wards.

Their tasks including reading to hospital patients, helping to feed patients, welcoming visitors and helping to keep wards tidy.

Commenting on the project, Ravi Subramanian, head of the Unison union in the West Midlands, suggested it is providing healthcare “on the cheap”.

He said it is doing this by “using people on work experience to help with patient care”.

But a trust spokesman said the unemployed people were not involved in “nursing or health care assistant roles”.

She stated: “The project gave participants the opportunity to gain confidence, training and experience, under supervision.

“The pilot is now complete and, after further consultation with trade unions and managers, we are aiming to run similar programmes across our three hospitals and make a difference to the lives of local unemployed people, by giving them an opportunity to gain valuable healthcare experience.”