Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust is encouraging administrative staff to volunteer for work as care assistants on its wards.

In a move criticised by unions, the trust said it is piloting a scheme allowing non-clinical staff to work a “small” part of their weekly hours on elderly care wards.

In a statement chief nurse Sally Napper told HSJ the volunteers “may spend time talking to patients, guiding visitors to ensure they follow infection prevention procedures or have undertaken training to enable them to assist patients at mealtimes, complementing the work of the nursing staff”.

“We are aware of other trusts across the country that are also developing this model of volunteering and we are currently looking at a number of options for developing a similar scheme here,” she said.

“This scheme is still in the earliest stages of development, but it follows feedback from staff who said they would like to gain more experience of working directly with patients and supporting their care.”

The £455m-turnover, three-site hospital trust has financial problems, with a £28m bailout from the NHS Trust Development Authority agreed for this financial year and a savings plan of £25m.

Concerns have been raised anonymously online about the initiative. One complainant said staff had been “politely pushed” or “cajoled” into working part-time as healthcare assistants because of short-staffing.

The trust has reported a sickness absence rate of 4 per cent so far this financial year, against a target of 4.5 per cent.

Unison recently finished nine days of industrial action over the down-banding of clerical and administrative staff.

The union’s regional organiser Jim Bell said: “I am astounded. Lots of staff have left under the [mutually agreed resignation scheme] and the admin and clerical function is in crisis - the people who remain are under intolerable pressure.

“To believe that they have the spare capacity to undertake patient care is ridiculous.”

He said the union would be submitting claims for the re-banding of staff who were undertaking this work.

The Royal College of Nursing said it would be “dangerous” to use volunteers to bypass the healthcare assistant training and education recommendations in the recent Cavendish report.

Glenn Turp, its regional director for Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “By using volunteers for patient-centred work, it becomes ever more difficult to introduce a mandatory system of statutory regulation.”