The first qualified nursing associates will join England’s health and care workforce today in a “landmark moment” for the sector.
Those who have completed their training can now register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
“Nursing associates should never be asked to act outside their remit”
Andrea Sutcliffe, the new NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “Today is a landmark moment, and I’m delighted to welcome the first nursing associates on to our register.
“The high standards that we set will ensure that this new profession plays a vital role in supporting registered nurses, promoting health and wellbeing and improving safety and the quality of care in England in the years to come,” she added.
The role was announced by the government in 2016 and was developed by its arms’-length body Health Education England.
HEE launched a pilot in 2017 with 2,000 trainee nursing associates taking on the two-year apprenticeship course across 35 test sites across the country.
The majority of those who took part in the pilot were healthcare assistants previously.
“Our decision to regulate nursing associates is a recognition of the enormous contribution they make”
The NMC was unable to confirm how many nursing associates would be joining its books today, because it may take people longer to complete the registration process than others, while some apprentices may not have finished their training.
However, it said around 1,800 nursing associates were expected to register over the next few months.
The government has a target for 5,000 nursing associates to start training in 2018 and a further 7,500 in 2019.
The aim of the new role is to bridge the skills gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses, and to allow registered nurses to concentrate on more complex care jobs.
Unlike healthcare assistants, nursing associates will be regulated, which means, like registered nurses and midwives, they will have to abide by the NMC’s professional code and also revalidate.
The role is also designed to create a new route into the registered nursing profession, because nursing associates will have the opportunity to progress to graduate level nursing.
Patricia Marquis, director of the RCN in England, said the nursing associate was a “valuable support role” but warned that it could not be used as a replacement for a registered nurse.
“With England facing a clear shortage of registered nurses, it is vital that employers do not attempt to fill any gaps with nursing associates,” she added.
”Nursing associates should never be asked to act outside their remit,” Ms Marquis said. “This risks putting undue pressure on individuals, who must not be made to carry out duties that fall outside their regulated role. This would unfair and could potentially threaten patient safety.”
“I know many of them have aspirations to continue to learn and become registered nurses”
Meanwhile, health minister Stephen Hammond said the opening of the NMC register to nursing associates marked an “exciting milestone” and that their skills would be “hugely beneficial” for patients.
He added: “Our decision to regulate nursing associates is not only a recognition of the enormous contribution they make, but will empower them to work to their full potential and place them on a firm foundation for a long and successful career in the NHS.”
Professor Ian Cumming, chief executive of HEE, said he had already seen first-hand how much of an impact nursing associates were having.
“Many nursing associates have already proved their values and behaviours having previously worked as health and care assistants and I know many of them have aspirations to continue to learn and become registered nurses in the future,” he added.
“Wherever they have come from, wherever they end up, they will make a real difference to the patients they care for and I could not be more proud of them as they become key members of the multidisciplinary workforce across health and social care,” Professor Cummings said.
Dr Ruth May, chief nursing officer for England, said nursing associates would play an “essential role” in both patient care and supporting the nursing profession.
Gerri Nevin, associate professor and head of department pre-qualifying healthcare practice at Birmingham City University, welcomed the registration of the first nursing associates.
“Today is a historic day in the development of our nursing profession and we welcome our nursing associate colleagues to the family of nursing,” said Ms Nevin.
She said: “This marks a new and exciting era for the profession as this new role will support and work alongside registered nurses in delivering the best possible care for patients, service users, their carers and families.
She added: “We are thrilled to be part of this exciting development, working closely with our practice partner colleagues across Birmingham and Solihull, as our first trainee nursing associates will be joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register in April this year.”