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Healthcare assistants in general practice: a qualitative study of their experiences

  • Laura Vail (a1), Sara Bosley (a2), Mila Petrova (a3) and Jeremy Dale (a4)

To explore the experiences of healthcare assistants (HCAs) working in general practice (GP).


HCAs increasingly play an important role in UK GP teams. The role is relatively new and little is known about how HCAs feel about their work in GP, and the challenges that they face.


Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 14 HCAs from two Primary Care Trusts in the West Midlands, United Kingdom. Transcriptions were analysed using the framework analysis approach.


Overall, HCAs reported that they enjoyed their work, and particularly appreciated the patient contact and positive feedback gained. Attitudes to the role were affected by previous position, experience, and length of time working within the practice. The HCAs felt accepted and supported by GP team members and valued the support they were receiving. Key sources of frustration included the poor salary, the lack of initial clarity with regard to role definition, and the constraints of their scope of practice. Role boundaries between HCAs and practice nurses were experienced as well defined, and no perceptions of role ambiguity were reported. HCAs considered their work to be of relatively low status, with its main purpose being to ease the practice nurse’s workload. Although many had the desire to train as nurses, few saw it as a realistic possibility.


Although HCAs appear to be satisfied overall, the elements of dissatisfaction relate to status, pay, and career progression, which may limit the retention of individuals in this role. Practices should consider the importance of recognising and valuing the work of HCAs and of providing protected time and resources for mentorship and career progression.

Corresponding author
Correspondence to: L. Vail, Health Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL, UK. Email:
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Post at the time of completing the work: Research Fellow, Health Sciences Research Institute, Warwick Medical School.

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Primary Health Care Research & Development
  • ISSN: 1463-4236
  • EISSN: 1477-1128
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