The future development of the nursing associate role must be monitored to ensure patient safety is improved and that there is public confidence in it, key stakeholder organisations have said following the publication of consultation findings today.
Health Education England has released the findings from its six-week consultation on the potential introduction of nursing associates, which it said revealed an “appetite” for the role, as well as strong support for its regulation by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
However, one union accused the government of “ducking” the issue of regulation - after HEE said it was yet to make a decision on the matter - and said it was “essential” nursing associates were regulated.
In response to the consultation results, the Royal College of Nursing said it was “positive” that HEE had recognised concerns that nursing associates could be used as substitutes for nurses.
“Ultimately, the best interests of patients will be served by developing support staff…and by ensuring there are enough registered nurses”
It said early test sites, which will take place in July to develop nursing associates’ scope of practice, should be “carefully monitored to ensure the new role can be introduced in a way that improves the safety and experience of patients”.
The union noted it was “vital” for the care support workforce to be able to progress. But it also said nurses were the “backbone of care” in England and were highly trained to assess, plan, and deliver nursing care.
“Ultimately, the best interests of patients will be served by developing support staff, either through this new role or by extending existing ones, and by ensuring that there are enough registered nurses,” said Dame Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the RCN.
“Developing a sustainable way to train and retain enough registered nurses is the only way of ensuring the right mix of skills that keeps patients safe and improves their health outcomes,” she added.
“These proposals must now be further developed to ensure the role has the rigour to attract public confidence”
Meanwhile, the NMC said it noted the strong support in the consultation for it to regulate nursing associates, but agreed with HEE that this decision should be taken after the role’s scope of practice had been devised.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said the plans for the role should be developed to ensure nursing associates have the “rigour to attract public confidence”.
“We note that the response suggests a high degree of interest in the potential for such a role, but that there is still some way to go in bringing definition to the role,” she said.
“These proposals must now be further developed to ensure that the role has the rigour to attract public confidence, whilst staying mindful that, if regulation by the NMC is desired, we have a UK wide regulatory framework,” she added.
Ms Smith has previously told Nursing Times the NMC would be able to regulate the role if asked to do so.
However, Unite’s professional officer for regulation Jane Beach told Nursing Times that, if nursing associate regulation was to go ahead, she would be concerned about whether the NMC had the capacity to take on the extra workload.
“I would also question where the funding will come from as registrants’ money should not be used for this,” she said.
But she did note that lack of regulation for nursing associates could lead to the responsibility of delegation “resting on already overburdened registered nurses”.
HEE’s report on the consultation findings is called Building Capacity to Care and Capability to Treat: A new team member for Health and Social Care in England.
Unison said that although the creation of the new role was “well-intentioned” there was still a risk nursing associates would be used as substitues for nurses.
The union accused the government of “ducking” the issue of regulation. It also warned the plans would only succeed if all healthcare assistants were provided with a comprehensive training package.
“If the government want to develop this higher level of support and give nursing associates additional responsibilities, including administering drugs, it’s in the best interests of patients and the NHS workforce that regulation is essential,” said Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea.