Calls to protect the title “nurse” have sparked a debate over whether it would protect the public or simply act as a way for the nursing profession to raise its status.
The calls were made in draft recommendations by the Prime Minister’s Commission on the Future of Nursing and Midwifery, seen by Nursing Times.
A report by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence this month also reflects concerns. It points out that “registered dental nurses” have different levels of education from those registered by the NMC.
The report states: “The NMC believes that the public understanding of the role of a nurse is undermined by the use of a similar title in a different role.”
Nursing Times understands concerns also stem from the fact registered nurses make more autonomous decisions than some others who call themselves nurses. This has raised questions over whether people such as nursery nurses and veterinary nurses should be stripped of their titles.
CHRE chief executive Harry Cayton said: “A protected title is an important part of how we make regulation work but the danger is it becomes a totem for individual professions.
“My question always is where’s the evidence that the public are in any way put at risk by people calling themselves a nurse?
“I don’t think that people will assume that dental nurses have powers or qualifications or abilities that are the same as someone working in a hospital.”
The CHRE report, Protecting the Public from Unregistered Practitioners, sets out the huge array of protected titles registered by other professional regulators. For example, there are 33 on the Health Professions Council, including two different spellings of “dietician”.
Defining a “nurse” could prove difficult due to the “enormous range of talent and abilities” of people who work in the profession, Mr Cayton said.
The best way to increase public confidence in particular professions is by improving performance rather than protecting titles, he added.
A Unison spokeswoman said: “People don’t expect nursery nurses, dental nurses and veterinary nurses to have the same qualifications and experience that hospital nurses have.”
It was important patients were clear as to who was treating them, but this could be done by name tags, uniforms or by staff introducing themselves rather than “another layer of bureaucracy”, she said.
However Royal College of Nursing head of policy development and implementation Howard Catton said a protected title would help the public.
He said: “It’s about the public being assured of a level of training, capacity and skill and also that the person could be held to account for what they do.”
But he said it was important to ensure that such a move would not “undermine” healthcare support workers.
Nursing Times has recently highlighted differing views within the profession and among the Conservative Party over whether healthcare support workers carry out “nursing” or “caring” .
Association of Advanced Nursing Practice Educators chair Dave Barton said, while there needed to be clearer standards clarifying nurses’ qualifications, he did not think including healthcare support workers in the definition “demeans nursing”.
He said: “Healthcare assistants do the vast majority of hands on nursing care…that’s the fundamentals of nursing.
“We seem to waste a lot of time talking about what nursing is. We should be talking about care delivery. Whether we need to call them a nurse or not is semantics.”
A campaign in recent years by engineers to protect their title from use by lesser-skilled technicians gained significant support in the profession but was rejected by the government and the Engineering Council, which said it would not be “practical or appropriate” to attempt to legislate because the term had “been used so broadly and widely”.
|Some protected titles|
|Doctor of medicine|
|Sport and exercise psychologist|