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Analysis: Nursing associates – the race is now on to train the first wave


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.

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.

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.


Readers' comments (16)

  • come on smell the coffee beans ..... for all those who either were or remember the State Enrolled Nurses this is what is happening and that's ok (former SEN, progressed to RGN then summarily dismissed for gross misconduct) aka now Retired.
    Once upon a time (read the history) girls (predominately) worked in hospitals etc, as time went by they did more and more 'duties' and said they want recognition - They went on a 'Roll' as opposed to 'Register'.

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  • A shortened nursing degree ? They will end up like confetti, worthless. We already have so many entrance criteria, 300 ucas points in some uni's,160 in others, access courses elsewhere and then summer schools to pass basic maths in others before starting course. If its a degree it should need the same qualifications to start, irrelevant of which university,all following the same course and exams. Then instead of teaching how to write up notes, teach students how to care for the patient... hands on. Too many newly qualified think they do not have to touch the patient.

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  • Result will be a lot of very exited partly trained staff who will quickly become disillusioned and the result will be poor care, neglect, abuse and even poorer staffing levels

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  • As a Senior Healthcare Assistant working on a District Nursing Team in the community I have always been dedicated to patient care and training opportunities. I have many years experience working on the Emergency Services before choosing to retrain for my current role which I thoroughly enjoy, however, I am at the top of band 3 feeling a little frustrated at not being able to progress to a band 4 in the role of a nursing assistant/practitioner due to logistics. I would jump at the opportunity of undertaking this training regardless of the issues raised from years gone by. in today's struggling NHS there is no room for looking back into the past but to encourage personal training and development to enable the continuity of a professional service providing the highest standards of care to our patients. Good luck to all those fortunate to be accepted for this pilot scheme and long may this continue to other areas.

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  • michael stone

    ANONYMOUS 13 OCTOBER, 2016 9:28 PM

    I suspect you are misinterpreting 'leading to a shortened nursing degree'. I don't think that means a nursing degree of reduced standard: I suspect the suggestion is that the skills and training which these Nursing Associates already possess, mean they would be able to reach the same RGN standard as other trainee nurses, but in less time (for example, perhaps with a nursing course a year shorter).


    Deborah, as you are 'on the inside' I'm wondering if you have a view about something ?

    There seems to be a lot of discussion about this new role, in terms of 'the required core skills'. I'm not sure about this aspect of the proposed new role - which I tend to think of as 'senior HCA'. My 'ponderings' arise from this possible difference: surely some HCAs might have no desire to eventually become RGNs, and would actually like to become more competent/qualified in respect of their 'actual job' - for example, 'more qualified as an HCA working alongside community nurses', or 'more qualified as an HCA working on a hospital ward [of a specific type]. That equals 'specialisation'. My 'pondering', is that if you impose a set of 'generalised core competencies' that wouldn't really fit with the type of objective I've just described: it would fit with the idea of 'then progressing to RGN qualification', but I think this 'senior HCA role' could encompass many different roles ?

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  • I am interested in applying for this role but cannot see anywhere details of how to go about it. Can anyone help??

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  • i was told to look out in 2- 3 week's time. Good luck

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  • There's no curriculum!

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  • Am I the only one to feel totally sick and tired of the constant changing nursing education format? I'm totally for nurses to be educated to degree level in order that we can question, support and challenge the medical profession and work as a team to facilitate patient treatment/care. Additionally I'm supportive of Assistant/Associate Practitioners and HCA's as they are invaluable to RGN's. Therefore why is it that nothing appears to be simplistic with becoming a nurse? I'm confused? The diploma is replaced by a degree the bursary is replaced by a loan all in an attempt to make nursing an all graduate profession. Then after all of that with the realisation that there is a nursing deficit bring in the 'associate' role. For goodness sake please can we have some clarity, I work alongside a phenomenal Assistant Practitioner in the critical care unit I work and have seen first hand her role be subjected to 'yes you can do that' 'no you cant' depending on the current climate. Nursing has completely lost its way wouldn't it be much more simpler to commence associate role with progression to degree and RGN ?

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  • Can Jan Cummings please tell us what it the difference between a Nurse Associate and an Assistant Practitioner who has studied for a Foundation Degree and is already working putting skills and knowledge into practice. Why are we not being supported to progress to a Nursing Degree ???

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