Up until this week you might have been vaguely aware of the new “nursing associate” role and could be forgiven for brushing it off as a new term for “assistant practitioners”. After all, the difference has not been immediately clear.
But this week, health secretary Jeremy Hunt got involved when he formally asked the Nursing and Midwifery Council to regulate the new role and, well, things got a bit more real.
The official stance is that nursing associates will “bridge the gap” between healthcare assistants and qualified nurses, alleviating some of the staffing pressures that the powers that be can no longer ignore.
But is the nursing community convinced about the idea?
In a word, no, if you use reaction on social media as a yardstick. We broke the news that Mr Hunt was asking for NMC regulation for nursing associates at one minute past midnight on Wednesday morning. By 5am, hundreds of our readers had taken to Twitter and Facebook to make their voices heard.
Reactions generally ranged from anger at the likelihood of a rise in member fees, if the NMC subsequently agree to regulate, to surprise that regulation was not always on the cards:
How much will that cost us. That’s why he has asked the nmc to do it cause it will be at no cost to the govmt. Let’s face it the nmc can’t cope with what they do now how are they going to manage more!!!
It wasn’t so long back people were kicking off that they weren’t regulated! They should be!
As well as the inevitable anger that mentions of the health secretary tend to attract, message after message pointed out the similarities between nursing associates and the former state-enrolled nurse – or SEN – role that was phased out during the 1990s as part of education reforms.
This is the nursing profession going full circle. Surely, It appears that this is the old Enrolled Nurse bring reinvented under a different guise?
Enrolled nurses by another name! Everything comes back in if you just wait
But the biggest concern seems to be the very real fear that rather than boosting numbers, this is an attempt by the government to create a workforce of cheaper and less well educated nurses. Many people said they felt insulted that the new role was seen as the solution to staffing problems:
I hope I am wrong… and that it will not lead to patients receiving less care from registered graduate nurses. But I worry… #nttwitchat
Included in the numbers…diluted skill mix. Et voilà…nursing on the cheap #nttwitchat
Meanwhile, a brave few have defended the new role or at least that steps are being taken with the aim of improving staffing levels:
Some of the hype also assumes we have never seen great HCAs become great RNs; some of my best students have been HCAs #nttwitchat
A variety of routes into and levels of nursing is reasonable but needs regulation and piloting with rigorous evaluation needed #NTtwitChat
Others point out that calling for nursing associates to be regulated is an insult to assistant practitioners:
Times are changing and we need to embrace a new professional into our ranks. But where does it leave the Assistant Practitioner? #NTTwitChat
I’m disgusted for AP. I think they’re the ones most devalued here. #nttwitchat
I feel confused & let down by this. Surely the AP role was the role to be expanded & now ….who knows? #nttwitchat
The AP role is being devalued. Why were we enc to take that route if we are not to be recognised - what was the point? #NTtwitchat
Social media suggests that the nursing community is apprehensive at best, but terrified at worst. Predictably, concerns for patients are paramount but most of this apprehension seems to come from the fact that the role of registered nurses is evolving or, some would argue, devolving.
One fact that our readers all seem to agree on is that healthcare settings are short-staffed. Nursing associates may not be the solution everyone wants, but could they allow some breathing room?
#NTtwitchat if we can’t afford best butter, we can either settle for margarine or be left with dry bread