Final proposals for the regulation of nursing associates, including the skills and knowledge students will need in order to qualify, have been outlined by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The nursing associate role has been introduced in England by the government to bridge the gap between registered nurses and healthcare assistants.
The move has been welcomed by some, especially nursing directors with high vacancy rates, but some academics and unions have warned that the controversial new role could be seen as a cheaper substitute for registered nurses.
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As reported by Nursing Times, the NMC became the official regulator for nursing associates in July, after legislation received royal assent. The legislation provides for the regulation of nursing associates “to be broadly the same as the approach we take to nurses and midwives”, noted the NMC.
Previously, in March, the NMC published an updated draft version of the standards nursing associates will need to meet and the list of skills they should be trained in.
This was followed in April by a 12-week consultation exercise on the proposals that has now been followed by what is likely to be the final version if approved by the regulator’s council.
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The new standards for the role have been published by the NMC this week in a 63-page document alongside its recommendations on the wider approach to the regulation of nursing associates.
“Overall, there was a consistent and strong degree of support for our proposals for the regulation of nursing associates,” said the regulator in its report on the consultation process.
As part of its plans, the NMC has set out how the existing code – with a new introduction and some minor changes – will apply to nursing associates as well as nurses and midwives.
The regulator said its approach would ensure that the same high standards of professional behaviour and conduct would apply to everyone on its register.
In addition, the proposed fees that nursing associates will be expected to pay have also been set out and will bring nursing associates “broadly into line with nurses and midwives”. Nursing associates will be expected to pay £120 to join the register and then the same amount annually to stay on it.
Meanwhile, the main way for a nursing associate to train will be through work-based learning – more widely known as an apprenticeship.
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As a result, the NMC said it had worked closely with employers and educators to develop a new approach to ensuring appropriate learning time for students.
This, it said, will give education providers and their practice placement partners more flexibility to decide how students will get the protected learning time they need.
One option could be the traditional “supernumerary” model – where students were additional to the minimum number of staff required for safety.
However, under a new option, trainee associates would be included in the numbers required for safety but trusts must demonstrate how they will protect a certain amount of learning time.
“The nurses they are working alongside recognise the potential of the role now and in the future”
This might be by giving them time away from their usual duties or showing that they have supervision when developing new skills, suggested the regulator.
Under both options, students would be supervised and must receive the same amount of protected learning time.
The NMC’s governing council will be asked to approve the proposed approach to regulation at its meeting on the 26 September.
Geraldine Walters, director of education and standards at the NMC, said: “It’s clear from what we’ve seen and heard that trainee nursing associates are appreciated by those they’re caring for, and that the nurses they are working alongside recognise the potential of the role now and in the future.
“We know just how important it is that students who are training ‘on the job’ have time away from their everyday duties to learn,” said Ms Walters.
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“We’re confident that the plans we’ve outlined today will not only support students to learn and keep patients safe but also work for employers too,” she said.
She added: “We look forward to seeing the first qualified nursing associates caring for people across England from January next year.”
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.