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NMC sets out conditions and risks ahead of its associate regulation decision

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The government must pay the £4m it would cost the Nursing and Midwifery Council to set up regulation of nursing associates, the body has revealed in a raft of conditions that would need to be met for it to agree to the Department of Health’s request to oversee the new role.

The NMC will decide whether or not it will regulate the new role at its latest council meeting next week.

“The council will wish to be satisfied that it has considered all the potential implications and risks”

NMC council papers

In NMC council papers published yesterday, which are due to be discussed at the meeting, the organisation laid out the risks and benefits of accepting the government’s request.

It highlighted the key risk was the threat to the NMC’s other major programmes of work, including its ongoing revision of nurse education standards. However, the NMC said its existing priorities would not be compromised “provided there is full funding” for regulating associates.

It said the government would need to pay the NMC around £4m in set up costs, and underlined the fact that ongoing costs would be paid for by charging nursing associates an annual fee. It said existing registrants should not have to pay anything towards regulation of the new role.

The NMC also set out a number of other stipulations. While it said it recognised nursing associates were being brought in to help with “urgent” workforce needs in England, the NMC warned it would have to be given the final say over how quickly the role was entered onto its register.

It also reiterated that a new part of the register would require a change in legislation that would take up to two years to introduce and that, “until that is done, no one could qualify as a nursing associate regulated by the NMC”.

“Ultimately students from these projects…will have to meet NMC requirements”

NMC council papers

Meanwhile, it noted that trainee nursing associates had already begun courses at pilot sites around England this month, but that the education programmes had not had standards set by the NMC – which would be required if it regulated the new role.

“The NMC will work as flexibly as possible with Health Education England and others involved in the pilot projects, but ultimately students from these projects who wish to qualify as nursing associates will have to meet NMC requirements,” said the council papers.

The regulator said it would need to have “full authority” over “all aspects of the education and training of nursing associates” in order to take forward the government’s request to regulate the role.

“This includes: determining the education standards and practical competences which the role requires, approving programmes, determining entry qualifications, the type of educational experience required, and the forms of assessment,” it said.

Meanwhile, the NMC pointed out that while qualified nursing associates would be eligible to practise across the UK, it would be down to each separate country whether those roles were used in the workforce.

“[The NMC will need to] work closely with the devolved administrations to ensure that the role is ’understood and respected’”

NMC council papers

In its assessment of risk, the NMC noted that because only England was introducing the new role at the moment, it would create a different workforce structure across the UK.

The regulator said it would need to “work closely with the devolved administrations” to ensure that the role was “understood and respected, even it is not used” in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The NMC also acknowledged there could be some potential confusion about the difference between nursing associates and registered nurses if they were regulated by the same body.

However, it said that having a single body regulating both would make it easier to align education and practice standards where required, and to point out the differences to avoid confusion between the two roles.

Other benefits included public and professional confidence in the new nursing associate role, due to the support shown for the NMC to regulate it in HEE’s recent consultation exercise.

“The introduction of a new regulated role is a major step: the council will wish to be satisfied that it has considered all the potential implications and risks thoroughly before reaching a view on regulation of the new role, including the consequences and risks to public protection of not doing so,” the NMC papers concluded.

The NMC council will decide whether to regulate nursing associates on 25 January.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt requested that the NMC consider the move in November, ending months of speculation about whether the government was in favour of nursing associates being a regulated role and, if so, by which body.

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