Characterising support and care assistants in formal hospital settings: a scoping review

Hum Resour Health. 2023 Nov 27;21(1):90. doi: 10.1186/s12960-023-00877-7.


Background: A 15 million health workforce shortage is still experienced globally leading to a sub-optimal healthcare worker-to-population ratio in most countries. The use of low-skilled care assistants has been suggested as a cost-saving human resource for health strategy that can significantly reduce the risks of rationed, delayed, or missed care. However, the characterisation, role assignment, regulation, and clinical governance mechanisms for unlicensed assistive workforce remain unclear or inconsistent. The purpose of this study was to map and collate evidence of how care assistants are labelled, utilised, regulated, and managed in formal hospital settings as well as their impact on patient care.

Methods: We conducted a scoping review of literature from PUBMED, CINAHL, PsychINFO, EMBASE, Web of Science, Scopus, and Google Scholar. Searches and eligibility screening were conducted using the Participants-Context-Concepts framework. Thematic content analysis guided the synthesis of the findings.

Results: 73 records from a total of 15 countries were included in the final full-text review and synthesis. A majority (78%) of these sources were from high-income countries. Many titles are used to describe care assistants, and these vary within and across countries. On ascribed roles, care assistants perform direct patient care, housekeeping, clerical and documentation, portering, patient flow management, ordering of laboratory tests, emergency response and first aid duties. Additional extended roles that require higher competency levels exist in the United States, Australia, and Canada. There is a mixture of both positive and negative sentiments on their impact on patient care or nurses' perception and experiences. Clinical and organisational governance mechanisms vary substantially across the 15 countries. Licensure, regulatory mechanisms, and task-shifting policies are largely absent or not reported in these countries.

Conclusions: The nomenclature used to describe care assistants and the tasks they perform vary substantially within countries and across healthcare systems. There is, therefore, a need to review and update the international and national classification of occupations for clarity and more meaningful nomenclature for care assistants. In addition, the association between care assistants and care outcomes or nurses' experience remains unclear. Furthermore, there is a dearth of empirical evidence on this topic from low- and middle-income countries.

Keywords: Care assistant; Health workforce; Human resources for health; Task-shifting.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Canada
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Health Personnel*
  • Hospitals
  • Humans