Jobseekers to care for patients in hospitals as part of unpaid work experience
Jobseekers helped feed patients during pilot scheme at Sandwell Hospital



13:27 GMT, 21 May 2012

Dozens of unpaid jobseekers are to deliver patient care at three hospitals in the Midlands, an NHS Trust has revealed.

It follows a successful pilot at Sandwell Hospital, West Bromwich, where six unemployed people worked for eight weeks to help care for patients on wards.

A spokesman for Sandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust, which runs the scheme, said the placements gave jobseekers a real taste of healthcare.

Extra help: The unpaid ward service assistants help with making drinks and even help feed patients

Extra help: The unpaid ward service assistants help with making drinks and even help feed patients (file picture)

'The pilot is now complete and, after further consultation with trade unions and managers, we are aiming to run similar programmes across out three hospitals,' they said in a statement.

However, union representatives for medical staff said they were concerned that the move showed a 'worrying glimpse of the future.'

Ravi Subramanian, head of Unison in the West Midlands told The Guardian that the Birmingham and Sandwell hospital trust was being forced to find 125m worth of savings over the next five years.

He added: 'Now the hospital is making moves to deliver healthcare on the cheap, by using people on work experience to help with patient care. Patients and staff will rightly be very worried about the standard of patient care as this scheme is rolled out.'

The NHS Trust defended the 'ward service assistants' scheme, saying the participants were all CRB checked and underwent two weeks of training at Sandwell College before carrying out basic tasks.

These included making hot and cold drinks for patients and helping to feed them if necessary, as well as collecting medication from the hospital pharmacy to give nurses more time on the wards.

Pilot: Six participants helped nurses on wards at Sandwell Hospital

Pilot: Six participants helped nurses on wards at Sandwell Hospital

Assistant Director of Nursing Linda Pascall added: 'We have really appreciated the support the ward service assistants have given to the wards.

'Their positive attitude has made this venture a success and we hope to be able to continue to work with our Jobcentre Plus partners to offer this scheme which has proven to have genuine benefits for our local community.'

Pauline Jones, Account Manager at Jobcentre Plus, said two of the six people had already gained employment thanks to their work experience.

Sue Horsburgh was one of the six participants and said she found it very rewarding.

'When I started on my first day, there was a lady who was quite poorly. She couldn’t talk and all she could really do was put her thumb up but I went to see her in my last week and I had a conversation with her,' she said.

'I went home each day and felt I had done something worthwhile.'

Fellow ward service assistant, Jennifer Howell, said the role had given her the confidence to start a new job working with people with learning difficulties.

And Sarah Jones, another of the six to undertake the placement, said she now wants a career as a healthcare assistant.

'I love it,' she said.

'There was nothing negative. I know that after doing this I never want to do anything else ever.'

Until Feburary this year, people on Government work experience schemes faced having their benefits cut if they left unpaid schemes.

However, ministers changed the rules following a meeting with scores of employers after protests by activists who complained that the unemployed were being forced to work for nothing.