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NMC must 'fully debate' whether it can regulate nursing associates

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The government’s request for the Nursing and Midwifery Council to regulate nursing associates will require a “full and thorough” debate by the NMC, its chief executive and registrar has said.

Last week Jeremy Hunt announced that regulation was a “necessary and proportionate requirement” for nursing associates, ending months of speculation.

Because those in the new role will be able to administer medicines, he said a “stronger regime of assurance” was necessary to ensure safe and effective practice.

The NMC has said it will decide whether to agree to the health secretary’s request at its next council meeting on 25 January. In an interview with Nursing Times, Jackie Smith said the regulator would consider a number of issues before it reached a decision, including whether it could afford to regulate associates and if it had the capacity to do so.

She stated that nurses would not see an increase in their annual registration fee as a result of nursing associate regulation, but nursing associates themselves would be charged. Ms Smith said it was “extremely unlikely” it would be more than the current annual fee for nurses of £120.

“Actually the decision for the NMC council is very simple”

Jackie Smith

Ms Smith told Nursing Times she expected the NMC council to consider other factors as well, including the impact on the NMC’s wider programme of work, such as its ongoing review of pre-registration education standards for nurses.

She said: “Some of the issues I expect the council will want to raise are who is paying for this, and how is it going to be done, how long will it take, is the Department of Health going to give us the changes to legislation we need [to set up the system] and what is happening to these people while they are undergoing their training?”

Ms Smith said she believed it would take at least two years to establish a regulation system for associates, due to the need for legislative changes. However, she said the NMC realised it was “imperative” the system could be set up by January 2019, when the first cohort of trainees would qualify.

Last month, the body that oversees the NMC – the Professional Standards Authority – said it could not yet come to a conclusion about whether nursing associates should be regulated due to a lack of evidence about the scope of the role.

But Ms Smith highlighted that the NMC itself was only being asked to consider if it was the right body to regulate nursing associates, rather than whether or not the new role should be regulated.

“Actually the decision for the NMC council is very simple – should we do it or somebody else? But it does require a full and thorough debate,” she said.

Nt editorial jackie smith

Nt editorial jackie smith

Jackie Smith

She added: “The council won’t be debating whether regulation is appropriate. It will just be whether we do it. Can it do it in terms of its stretch, commitments, and its broader programme.

“We have almost 700,000 registrants on our register. We can set standards, we can put people on the register, we can apply revalidation, we can apply fitness to practise. It’s not as if the mechanisms aren’t there,” she noted.

“I can’t judge what the council might say in January… But I think it’s unlikely that they are going to conclude they don’t have enough information to decide whether the NMC should be the regulator,” said Ms Smith.

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