Government plans to introduce a new nursing associate role could cause confusion with current assistant practitioner posts, increase accountability for nurses and risk creating “cheap labour” in place of registered staff, it has been warned.
Healthcare support workers and nurses raised the concerns as part of a debate to discuss the impact of nursing associates at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress on Tuesday.
“Why create a new role when assistant practitioners are already in existence?”
However, some said the new role – aimed at bridging the gap between HCAs and registered nurses in England – could help to ensure better training and career progression, but this should be for all healthcare support workers.
Others also said they wanted the regulation of all support workers if nursing associates were to be regulated, which has still yet to be decided.
Lindsay Cardwell, from the RCN’s health practitioner committee, said: “Why create a new role when assistant practitioners are already in existence? Assistant practitioners have been in healthcare and working very well since 2002.”
She noted many APs – usually employed at band 4 on the Agenda for Change pay scale – held a foundation degree qualification and worked in acute, GP surgeries and community and district teams, which were all suggested features of the new associate role.
“Why create a new title which will add to confusion? According to the Cavendish report there are up to 60 different title for healthcare support workers,” she added.
“This is an initiative that is pushing the number of registered nursing staff down and increasing the number of support staff”
Another member, Michelle Quested, said she believed the role would lead to fewer nurses and more support workers, which would increase accountability for registered staff.
“This is an initiative that is pushing the number of registered nursing staff down and increasing the number of support staff,” she said.
“What we need to remember is registered nurses maintain accountability for those supernumerary team members – who are extremely well skilled but are not allowed to make clinical decisions around making changes in patient care,” she added.
She urged caution over the number of nursing associates working in complex care settings in the future which could lead to a “diluted” workforce.
One RCN member also warned of a lack of mentors to train nursing associates, while another said they could be used as “cheap labour”.
RCN member Margaret Devlin, from Northern Ireland, said: “Registered nurses need to be very careful in definitions of their role. Equally, if my HCA colleagues are going to do the work they should be recognised for it and not be used as cheap labour.”
Matter for Discussion
That this meeting of Congress discusses the impact of the nursing associate role