Struck-off nurses 'still on wards'
British hospital wards could face a "ghastly national disaster" because of the growing number of unregulated healthcare assistants, the Nursing and Midwifery Council said.
Dickon Weir-Hughes, chief executive of the nursing regulator, has called for ministers to create standardised regulations for the hundreds of thousands of workers who are responsible for much of the basic care needed by NHS patients.
Professor Weir-Hughes told The Times that some nurses struck off for risking patient safety were still working on wards as healthcare assistants.
He told the newspaper: "We've struck people off as nurses who have then come back and worked as healthcare support workers. There's nothing to prevent them from doing that.
"If they've done something wrong that's very technical, that doesn't mean they couldn't give a bed bath, but I don't think any member of the public would expect a struck-off nurse or midwife to be looking after them as a healthcare support worker."
He added that even though hundreds of complaints are made about healthcare assistants each year, officials have no power to act. "All we can do is to say you either have to go to the person's employer, or if it's sufficiently serious call the police. There are no other mechanisms," he said.
He added: "This isn't just about waiting for some ghastly national disaster, it's about saying, 'How long do we leave this issue? How do we really value our elderly people in care homes? What value do we place on the care of vulnerable people in their own homes?'"
He told the newspaper that patients and their families needed to be able to distinguish between assistants and nurses - a step which could be taken by introducing separate uniforms.
"What's worrying is when we get complaints about a so-called nurse but they turn out not to be a nurse. In other words it's somebody who looks like a nurse, who is doing some things people associate with nursing, but is not a nurse," Prof Weir-Hughes said. "It's very hard for members of the public to tell who people are, so one of our calls would be for distinctive uniforms and clear name badges."
The council is drawing up guidelines for nurses who do not know when they need to perform tasks - such as feeding or washing patients - or when they can delegate to assistants.