NHS employees have long-complained about the long hours and low pay they get in return for doing such a vital job, but one hospital trust has gone even further, and is bringing in unpaid people on work experience placements to deliver care.
So what will they be doing, and is this exploitation by the state?
The schemeSandwell and West Birmingham hospitals trust has been running a pilot scheme with six unemployed people - as part of the broader government work experience programme. They have been helping out on wards - doing things such as cleaning, reading to patients, running errands, and feeding those who are unable to feed themselves. The 'ward service assistants', who were identified by the red T-shirts they wore, spent eight weeks helping out on the wards.
They aren't being paid within the scheme, but are instead doing it at the end of a two week period of training, in order to get some experience under their belts. Pauline Jones, Account Manager at Jobcentre Plus, is impressed with the success of the pilot. "We have had a really close relationship and we've already got two people into work," she said."I'm really pleased with how it has gone."
ArgumentThe trust says the scheme has been such a success it will be rolling it out to all three of its hospitals. The trust said in a statement: "We are situated in a deprived area with high unemployment and we think it is important to help get people back into work. The project gave participants the opportunity to gain confidence, training and experience, under supervision."
The union approved the scheme, but has expressed concern to The Guardian that some of the tasks carried out by people on work experience involve giving care directly.
However, others highlight that this is far from the only NHS hospital offering work experience placements. Leicester hospitals, for example, offer a range of options from a taster week to more specialist 'observation' placements for those applying for specific courses at university.
Neither is it the only hospital to use volunteers on the front line. Barts, for example, runs 24 week volunteering sessions for those who are happy to befriend patients, or help staff and patients in non-clinical roles.
It is perhaps the combination of work experience and front-line assistance that has raised concerns among commentators.
But what do you think? Is there anything wrong with this scheme? Let us know in the comments?