• Number of HCAs employed by NHS trusts increased by 6.5 per cent over two years
  • Nursing numbers have inceased by 0.5 per cent
  • East of England has highest proportion of HCA staff in the country

NHS trusts recruited a higher percentage of healthcare assistants than nurses over a two year period, new research has revealed.

HCA numbers increased by 6.5 per cent between December 2015 and December 2017, whereas nursing numbers in hospital trusts increased by just 0.5 per cent, from 270,725 to 272,476, according to analysis by BPP University School of Nursing.

The research, which comprised of data from 195 trusts, highlighted that HCAs now account for three in 10 care roles in the NHS.

Research has shown a link between a higher proportion of healthcare assistants versus registered nurses and a rise in patient mortality.

Nursing and midwifery vacancy rates increased during the two year period from 28,713 to 34,682. According to the latest NHS Improvement figures, the number of nursing vacancies exceeded 40,000 in the first quarter of this year.

The East of England was found to have the highest proportion of HCA staff in the country with almost one in three staff in the region working as an assistant. It was found that the number of nursing vacancies rose by 46 per cent – which represented the biggest rise in any region.

HCA numbers in London also grew significantly. For example in North Central and East London HCAs employed by trusts increased by 18 per cent. However, nursing vacancy rates in London were described as “comparatively low”, at 11 per cent.

The analysis also found the use of agency nurses increased by 37 per cent, because “supply hasn’t increase in line with demand”.

Although men only make up one in 10 nurses, the university’s analysis found that one in five HCAs are male. The analysis suggested that nursing recruitment problems would be “significantly eased” if the NHS could attract more men into the profession.

Mental health trusts were found to have the largest proportion of HCA staff at 34 per cent.

Lynne Gell, dean of BPP University School of Nursing, stressed that maintaining the status quo is “not an option” for trusts.

“As demands for care rise inexorably and the supply of nurses struggles to keep pace with that demand, it’s inevitable that hospital trusts will look to other sources for their staffing requirements,” Professor Gell said.

“HCAs are already a crucial element in care provision – and that role looks set to increase in the future,” she added.

Professor Gell stressed NHS trusts are “looking carefully” at workforce planning and ratios to ensure patient safety and care isn’t compromised.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said:As the demands on the NHS continue to grow it’s right that more [HCAs] are recruited alongside the 12,200 more nurses we have on our wards since 2010.”

“We have also opened up new routes into nursing, such as the nurse degree apprenticeship, to encourage healthcare assistants to reach their potential as fully trained nurses and ensure the NHS has the staff it needs for the future,” he said.