Healthcare assistants: Re-banded, rewarded and respected

Healthcare assistants are winning reward, recognition and respect in UNISON’s Pay Fair for Patient Care campaign, which has seen thousands of the lowest-paid NHS workers re-banded and paid significant back-pay for performing clinical duties

Healthcare assistants (HCAs) are some of the lowest paid workers in the NHS. As roles have evolved and hospitals have struggled with staffing, they have taken on more clinical responsibilities without the pay and recognition to match. So UNISON is organising healthcare workers to claim the reward and respect they’ve earned.

The campaign saw its first landmark victory in August 2022, when after a six-year battle, thousands of workers in Manchester were re-banded and received up to £5,000 in backdated earnings. Since then, over 70 similar campaigns have sprung up across the country.

One of the biggest successes has been at UNISON’s Northern Care Alliance branch, which unites four hospitals in Salford, Oldham, Bury and Rochdale. Through strategic organising and a campaign that has recruited over a thousand new members and 40 new reps, activists have secured re-banding and five years’ back pay for over 2,000 workers.

“UNISON is an organising union”

UNISON Northern Care Alliance branch secretary Jacqui Lewis said: “The foundations were there to build on. We used the same tactics as Manchester and launched a survey of workers to see whether people on band two were doing clinical duties that would fall within the remit of band three. We received thousands of responses that showed there was widespread practice of people working above their band. So we set up WhatsApp groups, started organising meetings and formalised a negotiating committee.”

Lisa Royle, a band two theatre assistant, became more active in the union through the campaign, which inspired her to become a UNISON rep: “Support workers are worth so much more than what they’re paid. Life’s short, you can’t make time up. We’d lost any kind of work-life balance. Nobody should have to come in on their day off to work an extra shift just to put food on the table.”

Jacqui, Lisa and other union activists put together a formal collective grievance which was signed by over 900 UNISON members.

Northern Care Alliance healthcare assistants meet

Healthcare assistants at Northern Care Alliance

Ms Royle describes the day in September 2022 when members met with the NHS trust’s CEO to deliver the grievance. On the day that the CEO was due to meet with governors in a meeting room at the Salford Royal Hospital, union reps booked the room next door to host an organising meeting for members. Workers marched across the hospital car park with whistles, drums and banners to get the attention of the trust’s CEO, Dr Owen Williams.

“When he arrived for the governor’s meeting next door, I stood outside and said: “Can you come and meet with us? There are 150 clinical support workers in this room who won’t be happy if you don’t.” So he came in, and I read a statement, and another worker read a powerful speech about how she wakes up at 5:30 in the morning to cycle to work.”

“We handed our grievance letter to the CEO and we asked him to sign a pledge that would say he’d negotiate with us. At first, he was resistant. Then, someone started chanting ‘Sign it! Sign it!’ and it caught on. The whole room of 150 workers were chanting at the CEO to sign it, and he knew at that point he had to. So he did. It felt fantastic.”

Northern Care Alliance management have since agreed to five years’ back pay, which will include workers who have since retired or left the trust. The union is still in discussions about how re-banding will be implemented.

“UNISON is an organising union”, Ms Lewis said, “and this campaign has really activated people.”

“A&E ground to a halt. That’s when they realised our worth”

Healthcare assistants in Leeds took a different approach. Amy Lee has been a healthcare assistant and UNISON member for 15 years and, two years ago, she noticed that she and her colleagues were doing far more work than was required: “We didn’t feel appreciated. We found it all very unfair, so we decided to file a collective grievance with UNISON’s support.”

Amy and five of her colleagues filed the grievance and after two years were re-banded, which prompted the trust to review the job roles of all healthcare assistants. While doing so, Ms Lee describes how “the trust instructed all people on band two to stop doing the extra jobs they were doing, which put a stop to HCAs doing bladder scans, ECGs, catheters, bloods and cannulas.

“The consequence was that A and E ground to a halt. That’s when they realised our worth.”

The trust immediately paid band two healthcare assistants ‘responsibility allowance’, a temporary extra payment in recognition of the additional duties they were undertaking and committed to review staffing. The union won.

“After two years of fighting, the trust told us we could apply for band three jobs, but we refused, because we were already doing the work. Eventually, we got put to the top of band three and given two years’ back pay. Then, we got other band two’s moved up to band three. Those who don’t get re-banded will receive the equivalent of 16 months’ responsibility allowance.”

Healthcare assistants in Leeds

Ms Lee continued: “It feels amazing to know you’re respected for the work you do, and you’re appreciated. You can’t do that job if you don’t care, but we were tired and being taken advantage of.”

Branch secretary for Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust Denise Carr said: “Healthcare assistants are predominantly low-paid women workers, juggling shifts around, working part-time hours and bank shifts. They go above and beyond, and the trust have proactively worked with us in partnership to finally recognise that.”

Ms Carr continued: “It’s been brilliant. Hard work, but brilliant. It’s about people using their own voice and encouraging them to stand up for what’s right.”

Pay Fair for Patient Care: 76 campaigns

Map of all UNISON re-banding campaigns

Map of all UNISON re-banding campaigns

Retention and recruitment

In Newcastle, UNISON secured re-banding and a year’s back pay for around 1,000 workers. This is the campaign’s first victory in the Northern region – and according to Newcastle Hospitals branch secretary Linda Hobson, it was fairly straightforward:

“We wrote to the trust in 2021 asking them to look at healthcare assistants’ job descriptions to make sure that they match with the new profile. The role went to job matching and came out at a band three.  There were a number of options put to the trust execs, but the easiest option was just to uplift everyone, so that’s what the trust did.”

Ms Hobson, a nurse herself, said: “I know how valued healthcare assistants are, they’re such an integral part of the nursing team. In negotiations, we knew one of the options would be for the trust to tell all band two’s not to do clinical duties, but we knew there’d be kickback from nursing colleagues because they can’t do all of that work.”

“We’ve had problems with retention and recruitment, which is why it’s so important for HCAs to be rewarded. The trust recognises this and, with good partnership working, we’ve been able to deliver for our HCAs.”

The union are now looking at how this can be extended to other band two workers, including physiotherapy assistants.

“Without healthcare assistants, hospitals would fall apart”

Bev Findlay is one of the healthcare assistants leading the new Pay Fair for Patient Care campaign at Bedford hospital. She said: “I’ve always thought it was wrong that we were doing way above our job description and not being paid for it. Honestly, without healthcare assistants, hospitals would fall apart.”

The campaign in Bedford started in March this year, and Ms Findlay has already managed to get 50 colleagues to complete surveys on what duties they’re undertaking. The next step will be coordinating organising meetings among healthcare assistants with support from UNISON organisers on the ground at Bedford.

“I feel really encouraged that other trusts have won on this. There’s no reason we shouldn’t either, as long as we’ve got the numbers behind us. I know that if healthcare assistants stick together, we’ll get this over the line.”

UNISON national officer Louise Chinnery said: “The Pay Fair for Patient Care campaign has seen some huge wins, with thousands of pounds being put into members’ pocket and HCAs finally seeing the reward, respect and recognition they deserve”

“Now we want to go even further, spreading this campaign to more workplaces and for more roles in our NHS.  Keep an eye out for news on this in the coming months.”

For more on this story visit unison.org.uk/HCApay

6 thoughts on “Healthcare assistants: Re-banded, rewarded and respected

  1. I have worked nearly 17 years at Aston use to get paid and three they took it off us at night .. learnt how to take bloods but say no now still do obs say n to hand three it’s all wrong

  2. Karen Dyke says:

    I think that all band 2 should be made into band 3 because of the amount of responsibility we have

  3. Karen duke, I agree with you all band 2 should be band 3. I am a receptionist, I am band 2 the same as an admin assistant, which I do more skilled work, yet my colleagues who are waiting list admin are band 3!!
    Will I get band 3 back payment as I was a HCA before a receptionist?

  4. Amy says:

    The rebanding is great and what is well deserved if you have been carrying out clinical duties not otherwise underlined in your job description.
    I have been working in surgical wards as a HCA for 6 years and I have always carried out clinical duties on my shifts for example patients observations, emptying of surgical drains and NG tubes, catheters and taking of bloods and cannulating.
    Working in a surgical ward these duties are expected of us as a HCA with the workload being so high for the staff nurses.

    Lets hope we get the rebanding and backpay we deserve.

  5. Gina Susan Bohrer says:

    I am a senior theatre support worker and have been for the last 23 years.
    The work I carry out and the responsibilities I hold are tremendous. The qualified theatre scrub and anaesthetic staff rely on me for countless duties. I even mentor junior staff. I work in a multi disciplinary elective department and have years of experience . Am trained on most surgical equipment, responsible for instrument and swab counting. Use the Cerner EPR equipment and now the I pad system for checking consent. I circulate in theatre with minimum staff and sometimes even alone, It is hight time experienced band 2 staff had their banding evaluated and back pay repaid. It is cheap labour to say the least – always doing work of qualified staff members.

  6. sj says:

    I’m only a band 2 and I do ECG, Bloods, Wound care, Plastering ,Sterostrips, Gluing , Blood Pressure ,Bladder scan , Urine dips and pregnancy testing and so much more but were a band 2

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