The test sites for training the first wave of nursing associates were announced on Wednesday and, after much discussion and sometimes disagreement over the new role’s introduction, trainees will now begin to be selected.
Eleven sites across the country – representing partnerships between universities and employers, including NHS trusts, GP practices and care homes – have been confirmed to carry out the piloting over the next two years.
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As revealed last month by Nursing Times, the number of trainee places for the new role has been doubled to 2,000, though they will come on stream in two separate waves.
However, it has not been any easy ride for Health Education England over the past year to get to this point, having had to work to develop what the role will be able to do, how it will differ to registered nurses and whether it will be regulated – with some of these decisions still to be revealed, in public at least.
Since the plans were first announced by the government at the end of 2015, there have been warnings that nursing associates – designed to sit between healthcare assistants and nurses – could be used as nurses on the cheap at a time of chronic shortages.
There has also been criticism that if a new layer of assistants takes over hands-on care, registered nurses would be left without the opportunity to monitor and assess patients, which could potentially put patient safety at risk.
”It has not been any easy ride for Health Education England over the past year”
Meanwhile, others have questioned why the role was even needed, when band 4 assistant practitioners already exist in some organisations and have been trained to foundation degree-level – the same level that will be required for nursing associates.
But HEE said that, despite the concerns, its consultation had still revealed a “real appetite” for nursing associates among the profession and insisted that safety would be central to its role in delivering care.
After this week’s test site announcement, the race is on to get people into training places and out to the workplace to help free up nurses’ time – one of the main arguments for bringing in the new cadre of assistants.
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HEE has stated the first set of 1,000 trainees will need to be selected by employers across England by December and that programmes must commence that month.
This is already quite a tight timeframe, considering the task of recruiting tutors and mentors. But to add to that, there is still no confirmed scope of practice for the role.
An absence of the scope of practice for the role means there is also, as yet, no confirmed curriculum for delivering the training – which will surely create some challenges for getting programmes up and running quickly.
“There is still no confirmed scope of practice for the role”
There is also the issue of how nursing associate training will eventually fit into a planned future apprenticeship model and how far the test sites will help to develop this ahead of further waves of nursing associate trainees being brought in.
One thing that potential candidates for the role can be reassured of is that they will get a broad variety of experiences. They are required to learn on-the-job through a combination of placements days, taught education, and time in practice – and it is on that basis that universities and employers applied to be test sites.
With this being the first time national standardised training will be offered to support workers, employers and universities must be hoping it will be a draw for many existing HCAs and APs.
The potential for the role to lead to a shortened nursing degree will also add to the attraction for some.
However, we only have a matter of weeks to find out whether the appetite for the role really is shared by not only members of the profession, but also potential candidates.