THE Royal Bolton Hospital has been chosen to pilot a scheme which will see unqualified people looking after patients.

It is hoped the initiative to bring local residents without professional qualifications on to wards as assistant practitioners will ease the problems caused by a shortage of skilled nursing staff.

The move will create 20 jobs in the next eight weeks.

Although Bolton's Royal College of Nursing has welcomed the new role, it has called for safeguards to prevent the unqualified staff from taking on the jobs of nurses.

The Royal Bolton Hospital, which has a high number of vacancies, has been chosen to pioneer the scheme to ease the burden on overworked, skilled employees.

Called the "work, Earn and Learn scheme", the Government programme aims to recruit mature people who have a "caring attitude and life experience" rather than formal qualifications.

Chris Mullen, a former director of nursing who is in charge of the scheme, said: "We believe this role will be really important to people already working in health and social care as it will give vital support.

"But it's the patients who will feel the real benefit, with more one-to-one care. What is really exciting for local people is that the scheme is aimed at those people who didn't think they could qualify for a career in health care.

"It is another route into a professional career in nursing, social care, physiotherapy and a range of other areas."

Over the next three years, more than 2,000 people will be recruited nationwide.

Bolton Hospitals NHS Trust said it was delighted to have been chosen as a pilot site.

Liz Judge, from the RCN Bolton, added: "We don't want people walking in off the streets to be put into uniform and not be properly trained.

"Nurses are all about caring for the wellbeing of patients and more people are being brought into hospitals, which we welcome.

"We hope the training is such that they are there to assist and not to take over the nursing role. We insist that they are not put into a position were they are taking over from nurses and issuing medication."

Recruitment begins today at the Education Centre, Royal Bolton Hospital, and on August 6, both starting at 7.30pm. For more information, call Gail Naylor at the hospital on 390576.