The Nursing and Midwifery Council has been asked by the government to regulate nursing associates, the health secretary has announced today.
In a speech to NHS employers, he said that because those in the new role will be able to administer medicines, a “stronger regime of assurance” will be necessary to ensure safe and effective clinical practice.
“Statutory professional regulation is a necessary and proportionate requirement for this important new role”
He said that statutory professional regulation is a “necessary and proportionate requirement” for this “important new role,” which requires a significant level of judgment to be applied in practice by those in the position.
However, he stressed that the new role – designed to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and nurses in England – will not replace nurses, but will support them.
He said nursing associates will help to free up nurses so they can spend more time using their more specialist training to focus on clinical duties and to take more of a lead in decisions about patient care.
The announcement brings to an end several months of speculation over whether the new role would be regulated and, if so, by which body.
The NMC has previously stated to Nursing Times that it would be able to take on the additional regulatory task, but the final decision lay with the Department of Health.
Meanwhile, England’s four most senior nurses recently backed statutory regulation for nursing associates, but a review published last week by super-regulator the Professional Standards Authority proved largely inconclusive on the issue.
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Earlier this year, Health Education England – the body responsible for developing the role – announced 1,000 nursing associates will begin a two-year training programme at 11 test sites across England from January, with a further 1,000 expected to follow in April.
The associates will train through an apprenticeship that will in the future be able to count towards a nursing degree.
“Nursing associates are not there to replace registered nurses but to support and complement them,” the health secretary said.
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“But I have listened carefully to what has been said and agree that, on balance, statutory professional regulation is a necessary and proportionate requirement for this important new role,” he added.
Reacting to the speech, NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “There is strong support for the nursing associate role and the Department of Health has today decided that it is a role which requires regulation.
“As an organisation we are well equipped to take on the role of the regulator, however, this decision will be made by our council at its meeting 25 January,” she said.
In response to the announcement, Professor Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England, said: “The nursing associate role has clear potential to improve patient care.
“It is important that it acts as a stepping stone to becoming a graduate registered nurse,” she said.
“By asking the NMC to regulate the role, the secretary of state is establishing a clear pathway for aspiring nurses, through education and training, supported by regulation that can give confidence to patients and employers that this will be an important role in our NHS workforce of the future,” said the CNO.
“The secretary of state is establishing a clear pathway for aspiring nurses”
RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies said: “We welcome the announcement that the Nursing and Midwifery Council will oversee the professional regulation of the proposed nursing associate role.”
Mr Hunt made the announcement this morning as part of a keynote speech at the NHS Providers conference in Birmingham, where he also provided further details about degree-level nurse apprenticeships.
He confirmed that degree-level nurse apprenticeships are expected to begin from September, with up to 1,000 aspiring nurses training via this route in the NHS every year once programmes have been fully established.