The Nursing and Midwifery Council is to regulate nursing associates, after the body’s council agreed to accept the government’s request to enter the new role on its register.
The Department of Health announced in November that it had asked the NMC to regulate the new post, which has been developed in England to “bridge” the gap between healthcare assistants and nurses.
The NMC has now formally agreed to a request from the Department of Health to be the regulator for the new nursing associate role. At a meeting this morning, NMC council members discussed the risks and benefits of agreeing to the request.
In NMC papers released last week, the body said it would need the government to pay £4m to set up regulation for nursing associates or else there was a risk its other programmes of work, including its revision of nurse education standards.
The UK regulator also noted that because only England planned to introduce the new role at the moment, it would create a different workforce structure across different parts of the country.
However, it also said that having one body regulating both nurses and nursing associates would make it easier to align education and practice standards where required, and point out the differences between them as necessary.
In the council papers, the NMC also stressed that, while associates were being brought in to deal with “urgent” workforce shortages, if it were to regulate the role it would have to be given the final say over how quickly it was entered onto its register.
It warned that this could take up to two years, due to the legislation changes required. Previously, nursing leaders have criticised the plans for being rushed.
Nt editorial jackie smith
Commenting on today’s decision, Jackie Smith, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “After a thoughtful and thorough discussion, the NMC’s council has agreed to a request from the Department of Health to be the regulator for the new nursing associate role.
“The council recognised that there is strong support for the regulation of nursing associates and I have always maintained that the public would expect any role with nursing in the title to be regulated,” she said.
“As an organisation, we are well-equipped to regulate nursing associates and this is a positive endorsement of our progress,” said Ms Smith.
She added: “We will continue to work closely with stakeholders, including the Department of Health and Health Education England, to ensure the successful development and implementation of this new role.”
Responding to the NMC’s decision, health minister Philip Dunne said: “Robust professional regulation is important, so patients can continue to be confident they are receiving high quality care and I am delighted with today’s decision by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
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“The introduction of the nursing associate role is key to strengthening the future NHS workforce and we look forward to working with them and other key stakeholders to ensure that appropriate safeguards are put in place for this new profession,” he added.
Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, director of nursing and national deputy director of education and quality at the workforce planning body Health Education England, welcomed the NMC’s decision.
“This is an important step in the journey for this exciting new role,” she said. “Our consultation showed that there was strong support for regulation and we have always been very clear that regulation is something that we are in favour of.”
She added: “The role will establish a clear pathway for aspiring nurses, through education and training and supported by regulation it will give confidence to patients and employers that it is an important part of the NHS workforce.”
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Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The NMC’s decision to regulate nursing associates is a very positive step forward. A regulated support staff means nurses can delegate some tasks with confidence to nursing associates.
“We are calling on the government to fund the NMC to undertake this task as the cost cannot be placed on current registrants,” she added.
“The nursing associate role is an opportunity to provide support to nurses and improve care,” said Ms Davies. ”But it’s vital that despite the financial pressures, NHS trusts do not replace registered nurses with nursing associates to save on costs.”
Responding to the NMC’s decision to regulate nursing associates, Professor Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “We welcome the NMC’s recognition of the difficulties involved in a UK-wide body regulating an England-only workforce role.
“It will be for each of the home nations to decide whether or not to include nursing associates in their health and social care workforce,” she noted.
She added: “Many uncertainties remain about the responsibilities and scope of the nursing associate role. Now that a decision has been taken on regulation we look forward to working with the NMC to help it define educational standards and practical competencies for nursing associates.
“We have been clear that nursing associates must not be used as a substitute for registered nurses and we expect the competencies for nursing associates to reflect the difference between the two roles,” she said.
More than 1,000 nursing associate trainees have begun programmes of learning with employers and universities at 11 pilot sites across England this month. A further 1,000 will also begin training at another 24 sites in the spring.
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By the end of their training, associates will have gained a “level 5” qualification, equivalent to a foundation degree.
The curriculum for the role, developed by national workforce planning body Health Education England and published in November, states that the two-year programme will include learning how to administer drugs, and calculating doses under delegation.
However, this marked a change to an earlier leaked version that attracted criticism among the profession after it stated associates would be trained to administer controlled drugs.