Assistant Practitioners at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust will be in the spotlight next week as a special Focus Day event on Monday 12 November will highlight their developing role as part of the clinical teams at the Trust’s hospitals.
The role of assistant practitioner, which bridges the gap between the traditional healthcare assistant and registered nursing and other health professional roles, was established at RCHT in 2006. Specially trained and working within strict protocols, assistant practitioners are able to carry out an extended range of tasks that enable them to support nurses and junior medical staff.
RCHT Interim Nurse Executive, Andrew MacCallum, is a strong advocate for the assistant practitioner role. He says, “Assistant practitioners bring an important addition to the teams in front-line care. They provide a flexible range of skills that complement and support high standards of patient care, allowing nurses and doctors to concentrate their own expertise where it is most needed.”
Elaine Holt and Polly Wells were among the first group to train, taking advantage of an ‘earn while you learn’ opportunity to further the knowledge and skills they had built up as healthcare assistants. Both are passionate about their work as assistant practitioners and are keen to encourage others to follow their lead.
Elaine is part of the team on Grenville Ward at the Royal Cornwall Hospital. “Before I studied to take on the extended role as an assistant practitioner I was stuck in a position as a healthcare assistant,” explains Elaine. “At that time there was nowhere to go to advance. I’d worked all over the hospital and needed a new challenge.”
Both Elaine and Polly would agree that it wasn’t an easy option. The training to become an assistant practitioner involves two yeas of intense college study alongside a full time job but they have no doubts it was worth the commitment.
Their study has given them new skills and importantly new confidence in their work. With practical elements of training underpinned by hands-on experience on the ward they are well-equipped with a core range of skills and now able to develop other specific skills relevant to the patient groups they are caring for.
“The common skills we have are tasks like putting in canulars, taking blood samples, and inserting naso-gastric tubes,” says Polly, who is part of the Emergency Department team. “Working here in ED though, I have extended skills in tasks such as plastering, heart monitoring and the transfer of critically ill patients.”
Elaine says, “I believe the assistant practitioner role is great for the ward team and for patients. It brings a good continuity in care and my hope is that patients get better care because of it.”
“It’s a really patient focussed role,” adds Polly. “Now when I am caring for patients I have the underlying knowledge not just to carry out certain tests or treatment but to be able to explain why we are doing them. That can be so reassuring for a patient who might be frightened or anxious. I know there are so many excellent healthcare assistants at our hospitals and I’d encourage them not to sit back. If they can make the commitment, then training as an assistant practitioner has great rewards.”
They key to the success of the assistant practitioner role say Polly and Elaine is the support and encouragement from their respective clinical teams who have had confidence in their abilities and have let them carry out the role to its full potential. In fact, Polly was recently nominated by one of her medical colleagues for one of the Trust’s Improving Working Lives monthly bouquets in recognition of her contribution to the team.
Alexandra James, Learning and Development Nurse at RCHT said, “The role of Assistant Practitioner is a major part of our staffing plan for the future. We have many healthcare assistants with a great deal of experience and untapped skills. It is a great opportunity to progress their careers and a stepping stone for those who want to go onto nursing degrees.”
Polly and Elaine will both be talking about their work at the Assistant Practitioner Focus Day on Monday 12 November. Anyone who would like to come along and find our more about the role can contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01872 255149.