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A medical orderly (also known as a ward assistant or nurse assistant) is a hospital attendant whose job consists of assisting medical and nursing staff with various nursing and medical interventions. These duties are classified as routine tasks involving no risk for the patient.
Orderlies are often utilized in various hospital departments. Orderly duties can range in scope depending on the area of the health care facility they are employed. For that reason, duties can range from assisting in the physical restraint of combative patients, assisting physicians with the application of casts, transporting patients, shaving patients and providing other similar routine personal care to setting up specialised hospital equipment such as bed traction arrays.
Orderlies are typically found in emergency departments, operating rooms, psychiatry, long term care, and orthopaedics.
Orderlies are described as non licensed hospital assistants that are instructed to perform delegated functions under the direct supervision of a licensed practitioner in the health care setting. While the role of nursing has traditionally been filled by women, most orderlies are men, as they may be asked to assist nurses in physically demanding procedures.
In the US, orderlies have been phased out of health care facilities in recent years and their functions are now replaced by the patient care assistant and Certified Nursing Assistant. They remain common in Canada and other countries.
Orderlies in UK hospitals were known as "attendants" (primarily in lunatic asylums), but that role has been phased out. The nearest role left to a male hospital assistant is that of Porter, but that is more a logistical role, moving patients and equipment around the hospital. This is not to be confused with healthcare assistants (HCAs) who are essentially carers for patients (not qualified or licensed health care professionals), and may be of both sexes.
A common set up among hospitals in Australia is seen at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Adelaide, South Australia. At the RAH the orderly service is contracted to Spotless, a national corporation. There are around 80 orderlies employed by Spotless at the Royal Adelaide alone. Here, they are tasked with the movement of patients and equipment between wards and departments, the movement of patients from ambulances in triage, the movement of patients from MedStar retrieval helicopters that land at the hospital, the movement of deceased patients to the mortuary and various other tasks. They respond to every MET (medical emergency team) call that originates within the hospital to provide extra oxygen and so that the patient is able to be moved to another area (such as the intensive care unit) as soon as is required. The orderlies are dispatched using pager-radio combos. Some orderlies are stationed at particular departments such as radiology and theatre/recovery but most are in the 'pool' and are dispatched throughout the hospital. In The Royal Brisbane and Womans Hospital in Queensland, orderlies are called patient support officers or PSOs. Controversially, PSOs are required to do all cleaning within the hospital, leading to an outcry from staff that the practice is unsafe because PSOs have to not only clean, but also take care of the patient handling, leading to a possible increase in the spread of infection.
In Canada, orderlies are called Nursing assistants, PCA (personal care attendants), PSW (personal support workers) and health care aids (HCA).
An operations assistant (OA) is a type of orderly trained to assist in the running of an operating suite. An OA requires no prior formal training and learns their craft on the job. As well as fulfilling the duties of an orderly, an OA is responsible for the positioning and readiness of equipment in the operating room; and in assisting surgical staff in the positioning of the patient on the operating table. OAs are required to possess knowledge of equipment that is required for every procedure performed in the suite.
The primary duty of an OA is patient care. The application of anti-deep vein thrombosis equipment, compression stockings, as well as padding to prevent pressure sores is one of the tasks performed by an OA for most surgical procedures. The movement of the patient from their own bed to the operating table is often coordinated by the OA and the anaesthetist. Surgical procedures requiring the preparation of a limb with antiseptic use an OA to hold the limb for the surgeon whilst maintaining aseptic technique. OAs are also required to collect blood products from the blood bank and deliver urgent frozen section samples to the pathology laboratory.
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