Vital signs for vital people: an exploratory study into the role of the Healthcare Assistant in recognising, recording and responding to the acutely ill patient in the general ward setting

J Nurs Manag. 2010 Jul;18(5):548-55. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2834.2010.01086.x.


Aim: To examine the contribution of the Healthcare Assistant (HCA) as the recogniser, responder and recorder of acutely ill patients within the general ward setting.

Background: Concerns have been highlighted regarding the recognition and management of the acutely ill patient within the general ward setting. The contribution of the HCA role to this process has been given limited attention.

Methods: A postal survey of HCAs was piloted and conducted within two district general hospitals. Open and closed questions were used.

Results: Results suggest that on a regular basis HCAs are caring for acutely ill patients. Contextual issues and inaccuracies in some aspects of patient assessment were highlighted. It would appear normal communication channels and hierarchies were bypassed when patients' safety was of concern. Educational needs were identified including scenario-based learning and the importance of ensuring mandatory training is current.

Conclusions and implications for nursing management: HCAs play a significant role in the detection and monitoring of acutely ill patients. Acknowledgement is needed of the contextual factors in the general ward setting which may influence the quality of this process. The educational needs identified by this study can assist managers to improve clinical supervision and educational input in order to improve the quality of care for acutely ill patients.

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Critical Illness*
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Hospital Departments*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Needs Assessment
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / standards*
  • Professional Role*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vital Signs