Concerns have been raised that nursing associates who have been trained at pilot sites will not be qualified to the level required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and could present a risk to patient safety.
At the end of January, the NMC agreed to a request from the government in England to regulate the new role, which is expected to sit between a healthcare assistant and registered nurse.
At the NMC council’s latest meeting where it agreed to the request, the body’s chief executive said the development of the new role had been done in the “wrong order” because pilot programmes had already begun before the NMC had set the training standards.
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It was claimed by a member of the council that this could lead to a “dangerous” situation in which those who trained through the pilots might practise under the title of nursing associate without being regulated by the NMC.
“We are going to be in a position where some people might want to call themselves nursing associates who will be ready to apply for jobs, before we have the regulatory framework set up, and I am really anxious about this,” council member Stephen Thornton said at the meeting.
“I am anxious for them that they may end up having marginally the wrong training to be able to cope to do what we say they should do,” he added.
“I’m also concerned for patient safety. I’m also concerned for simply what patient expectations are going to be of what people in that kind of situation are going to be able to do for them – be it on a ward or in a community setting,” said Mr Thornton.
“I am anxious for them that they may end up having marginally the wrong training”
He later stressed that it would be “catastrophic” if this “dangerous” situation occurred and the body should seek assurances from the government that only those regulated with the NMC would be able to call themselves nursing associates.
His concerns were echoed by Unison’s outgoing head of nursing Gail Adams, who said at the meeting that there was a “big risk” that pilot site trainees would not in the future be regulated by the NMC, because “we are putting the cart before the horse”.
More than 1,000 trainee nursing associates began two-year pilots at employers and universities across the country last month, under programmes developed by Health Education England, with a further 1,000 due to begin in the spring.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said the regulator would need to “seize” the pilot programmes off HEE and work closely with the employers and universities involved over the next couple of years.
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She acknowledged that the development of the role had been done in the “wrong order”. “We would not be setting on this path in this way. It would be us setting the standards, and then training,” she told the council.
But she later told Nursing Times that, while there were concerns and the risks would need to be managed, “they are not showstoppers”.
HEE’s senior nursing policy manager Sam Donohue said at the meeting that the 2,000 pilot trainees needed to be “protected” and they had been made aware they might need to complete additional elements of training beyond the current programmes.
She said HEE had been working closely with regulators and employers to ensure they waited until the training standards had been set and met, before “badging” people as associates.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The pilot programme has been developed alongside the NMC and HEE – clearly it is not in anyone’s interest to train nursing associates in the pilot programme who then won’t meet the NMC’s standards for registration.”