There in your hour of need

HCAs are making a difference in their workplace as RCN reps

If you’ve ever faced a disciplinary hearing or grievance, the likelihood is you’ve sought help from your local RCN representative. But what else does the role involve? And what difference can representatives – or “reps” – make to the working lives of HCSWs?

To help spread the message about the vital role reps play in workplaces throughout the UK, the RCN is highlighting their contributions with a series of colourful posters. Each one tells the story of an individual rep’s achievements by looking at a specific challenge, what action they took and the positive results for members.

Changing perceptions

Among those whose work is being showcased is HCA Sarah Waters, who is a steward at Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. Sarah became aware the terms “qualified” and “unqualified” were being routinely used to describe staff, rather than registered or non-registered. “This had a detrimental effect on staff,” says Sarah. “They felt it was outdated and derogatory terminology that undermined their professionalism. They’re not ‘unqualified’ – they’re fully qualified to do their roles.”

Portrait of Sarah WatersSarah Waters

At the trust’s health care support workers’ development forum, she took the opportunity to raise the issue – winning applause from her colleagues. Sarah then sought agreement from the trust to change its language, with a commitment to use registered and non-registered in all future communications – including policies, job descriptions and advertisements.

For Sarah, the move demonstrates widespread recognition among all staff that everyone is qualified to carry out their roles, has had training and takes great pride in their work, regardless of whether or not they are registered. Meanwhile HCSWs have told her they now feel more respected.

HCSWs now feel much more valued at work

“I don’t think anyone could anticipate quite what a difference it would make,” says Sarah. “Such a simple thing as changing the language we use has had a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of HCSWs, who now feel much more valued at work.”

Positive outcomes

Maive Coley’s work, as both an RCN steward and learning representative, is also in the spotlight. An HCSW at Nottingham University NHS Trust, she represents all staff – including those who are registered – who may find themselves in difficulties at work.

Among her more recent cases was supporting an inexperienced staff nurse who faced a formal disciplinary hearing for extending his break without permission. In fact, he had been reassuring a patient’s family, prioritising their needs over his own time-keeping.

“He needed both practical and emotional help to cope with a highly stressful situation,” says Maive. “And he also needed a positive outcome to ensure his future career prospects.”

Maive Coley holding a sign

Representing him, Maive spent as much time as possible preparing the case, seeking expert guidance from RCN staff. She made sure she understood the process and terminology, meticulously studying the evidence and anticipating various lines of questioning.

As a result of Maive’s hard work and dedication, the member received the lowest sanction possible: a verbal warning with no loss of increment. Fortunately his career has not suffered and he has since moved to another post.

Without RCN support he would have given up nursing

“He was so relieved,” says Maive. “He told me he felt it was a huge weight off his shoulders. Without the RCN’s support, I think he would have given up nursing. Now he can move forward and put all of this behind him.”

Key facts

  • The RCN has about 1,000 stewards, 450 learning reps and 400 safety reps in workplaces around the UK.
  • Stewards promote employment rights by making sure members are treated fairly, helping to prevent and resolve disputes.
  • Learning reps support career development. They organise learning events; support individuals with learning needs; and work with managers to influence and support the employer’s learning and development agenda.
  • Safety reps ensure members’ rights to a safe and healthy working environment by carrying out safety inspections and contributing to risk assessments; reviewing workplace policies; analysing information to identify early signs of potential issues; and representing RCN members on issues associated with workplace incidents.
  • No formal qualifications or a particular level of experience are needed for any of the reps’ roles and there’s a comprehensive package of free RCN training, development and support.

Interested in becoming a rep?

Contact your local RCN office or read this leaflet. Find out more about what reps do and how they help members and employers by downloading The Value of Reps: In Our Own Words.

Words by Lynne Pearce

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