The Nursing and Midwifery Council is now the official regulator for nursing associates in what has been hailed as a “landmark moment” for the body.
Legislation to allow the regulator to take on the controversial new role has passed through the final hurdles, having been approved by the House of Lords last month.
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It has since been agreed by the Privy Council and received royal assent, meaning the NMC is now the regulator of nursing associates in law.
It also means the NMC has the power to establish a register and set the standards for the new role, designed to bridge the gap between unregulated healthcare assistants and registered nurses.
Other regulatory powers will come on stream when the nursing associate register is launched in January next year, explained an NMC spokesman.
“There are certain powers we can get straight away when we have been made in law the regulator, like the right to create the register and set the standards,” he said.
“Once the register comes into force in late January, we then get our next set of powers that come with the amended Nursing and Midwifery Order,” he told Nursing Times.
“This is a significant milestone on the nursing associate journey and regulation of this new role”
NMC officials have hailed the passing of the legislation as a “landmark moment” for the body, which agreed to become the regulator for nursing associates in January 2017 at the request of the then health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt.
”This is a significant milestone on the nursing associate journey and regulation of this new role has now become a reality,” said NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith.
She said: “There is still much to do to before the first nursing associates join our register early next year and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure this new role is understood.”
The NMC’s governing body is due to agree the standards that nursing associates must meet to join the register at its meeting in September.
At that meeting, the NMC council is also due to agree the code for nursing associates and the annual registration fee.
Nursing associates will care for people of all ages, in a range of settings including hospitals, care homes and the community.
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The hope is the advanced support role will be a valuable addition to the skills mix within nursing teams and allow registered nurses to focus on more complex care.
It is also hoped that many nursing associates will go on to train as registered nurses, though some fear it represents a way of plugging gaps in nursing rotas on the cheap.
In January 2017, the first group of 1,000 trainee nursing associates began two-year programmes, followed by a further 1,000 in April that year at pilot sites across England.
In April this year, the NMC said just under 500 further trainee nursing associates had also commenced programmes in England so far, with more than 4,000 expected to begin later in 2018.