Healthcare support worker programme

What is a healthcare support worker?

The term healthcare support worker (HCSW) is an umbrella term which covers a variety of health and care support roles, including healthcare assistant (HCA), nursing assistant, theatre support worker, maternity support worker and more.

Healthcare support workers play a vital role in providing excellent care to patients across all NHS care settings. They can help patients with social and physical activities, personal care, mobility, meal times, booking appointments etc. They may also take observations of patients, including temperature, pulse, respiration and weight. HCSWs can work in hospitals, GP practices, people’s own homes or in the community; roles can vary depending on the environment in which they work. They can work with many different patient groups, of all ages, including those receiving acute care, people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities or mental health conditions, and in maternity services.

The HCSW role can also lead to a range of career opportunities. With the right support, those who exemplify the skills and core values essential to delivering high-quality, compassionate care could, and can, go on to become our future nurses, nursing associates and midwives.

Background to the programme

The healthcare support worker programme was launched in September 2019 to support NHS trusts to increase their HCSW recruitment, minimise vacancies, avoid reliance on temporary staff and so provide greater continuity of care for patients, and to support more people to progress into nursing and midwifery roles in the future.

Reducing and maintaining minimal HCSW vacancy rates is essential to supporting the NHS’ recovery from COVID-19 and the delivery of the NHS Long Term Plan. The 2021/2022 NHS priorities and operational planning guidance sets out the steps we need to take to sustainably increase the size of our workforce in line with the measures set out in the NHS Long Term Plan. To ensure that the NHS is able to grow for the future, health systems are asked to increase their recruitment of healthcare support workers as part of their plans for the next year.

One of the programme’s ambitions is to recruit people wishing to start a career in the NHS from outside health and care sectors. It has focussed on encouraging people, at all stages of their working lives, who have transferable skills and experiences to apply for HCSW roles. In March 2021 the programme reported that around half of all new HCSWs had no previous health or care experience. The programme has seen HCSWs joining teams from industries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including retail, hospitality, small business owners and cabin crew, as well as others who had chosen to change career mid-life, or after retirement eg from the Army.

The programme aims to showcase the role and the variety of settings where our HCSWs play a vital role providing care for our patients and service users. It will share stories of current and previous HCSWs and their career pathway into and within the NHS, with potential job seekers.

Between January and the end of March 2021, we welcomed 10,611 new HCSWs to the NHS , with a further 4,770 ready to join after pre-employment checks were completed.

In 2021/2022 the HCSW programme will continue to support the recruitment of new HCSWs, and will also focus on encouraging current HCSWs to stay in the NHS. This will include enhanced induction and pastoral support, career development, training and education and pathways for progression.

Programme priorities

National recruitment campaign

Healthcare support workers were featured in the Winter-20/Spring-21 ‘We Are the NHS’ campaign, which included TV advertising, social media and print media campaigns, and an updated section on the Health Careers website. We will continue to partner with various campaign and recruitment partners to raise awareness of HCSW careers and support NHS trusts to recruit to their vacancies.

Enhanced induction for new HCSWs

In partnership with Health Education England and e-Learning for Healthcare, a new ‘accelerated’ Care Certificate is available to new HCSWs. The Care Certificate is a set of 15 standards and competencies, which people who are new to health and care must demonstrate to make sure they have the necessary skills to deliver high-quality care. Through a blended approach of online learning and practical, competency-based learning, it reduces the time taken to complete the Care Certificate from 12 weeks to between four and six. We will continue to promote the benefits of pastoral support and mentorship for new HCSWs as they join our workforce.

Career pathways

Ongoing learning and development is key to offering our HCSWs long term careers with the NHS. We will continue to work collaboratively with Health Education England to offer HCSWs development opportunities within their roles and career pathways to support the transition into registered nurse and midwifery roles.

Local support

Regional NHS England teams also work with the HCSW programme team to identify areas of increased vacancy levels, provide insight and clinical leadership to develop local improvement plans.

Healthcare Support Worker Shared Decision-Making Council

Shared decision-making is a way of making decisions that is inclusive, collaborative and non-hierarchical. The Healthcare Support Worker (HCSW) Shared Decision-Making Council is an important part of our national HCSW programme’s governance structure. It helps to shape our work and ensure it’s informed by HCSWs and their experiences.

The HCSW Shared Decision-Making Council meets virtually once a month on a Friday from 11am to 12pm. These informal meetings are chaired by one of the Council members who is a theatre support worker and are supported by a senior programme manager who is a former HCSW.

If you’re a HCSW working in the NHS and would like to join the Council to help shape our work and programme priorities, please contact


For more information contact the nursing workforce programme team at