Support workforce

Service user with carer

The NHS employs over 340,000 support workers, who provide support to the full range of professionally qualified clinical staff in all health and care settings, and fundamental care to patients and clients. 

Employers know that planning for, attracting and retaining good support workers with the right values and behaviours, and developing their skills and roles is imperative to the flexibility and sustainability of workforce supply, and better patient care. 

The Cavendish Review into healthcare assistants (HCAs) and support workers in the NHS and social care acknowledged that many employers recognise the strategic importance of their support workforce. Considered workforce planning and a focus on values can enable support workers to provide safe and compassionate care to a population with increasingly complex long-term health conditions.   

What is a support worker?

A support worker (sometimes referred to as a healthcare assistant, among other titles) is a person who provides care under direction of registered or qualified professionals. Support workers are usually employed within Agenda for Change bands 2, 3 or 4.

Developing the skills and competencies of your support workers, whether generic, profession specific or multi-disciplinary, can be really beneficial to you as an employer, and can help you to meet local service and employment needs. Doing this can provide stability by flexibly managing variations in workforce and service supply and demand.

As job roles and responsibilities change, it is important that employers use the appropriate Agenda for Change job evaluation process.

How can we help?

We know that employers are working hard to build service users' confidence in the capability of their support workers, and to get the best return on increasingly stretched resources. In many areas, long term and considered investment is being made into strengthening planning, recruitment, selection, training, induction and development practices.

We are supporting you to build on the good practice already happening across the service, by providing you with a forum to share learning, and keeping you up to date with the latest developments and resources relevant to this workforce.

To support employers to plan for a quality support workforce, we have produced a briefing, The support workforce: developing your patient-facing staff for the future. It explains why employers need to assess the shape of their workforce, plan for future patient need, and invest in the development of their support workers to ensure both flexibility and sustainability of workforce supply.

Although the benefits are great, designing your whole workforce, including the support workforce is not without its challenges. We have outlined some of these, and possible solutions, on our Developing your support workforce page, including suggestions about the use of assistant practitioner and apprenticeship roles as part of a wider career development pathway for your staff.

As a response to Recommendation 14 of the Cavendish Review, NHS Employers produced a new people performance management toolkit in partnership with the National Skills Academy (Social Care). This resource offers line managers in the health and social care sector a wide range of practical guidance and signposting on the subject of people management, and is available to download from the case studies and resources section of our website.

Get in touch

If you would like to tell us about how you are developing your support workforce, or initiatives to improve patient care, please email

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Tools and resources

Our tools and resources pages bring together the latest reports, publications and toolkits on support workforce issues.

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