A government consultation has been launched today on the legal changes required to allow the Nursing and Midwifery Council to bring nursing associates onto its register and has been described as a “vital step” towards the new role becoming regulated.
In January, the NMC agreed to the government’s request to regulate nursing associates, but noted at the time that it did not yet have the legal powers to do so and that it could take up to 18 months for the changes to come into effect.
“Nursing associates will play an extremely important role in supporting registered nurses”
In that same month, the first group of 1,000 trainee nursing associates began two-year programmes, followed by a further 1,000 in April, at pilot sites across England.
The Department of Health’s consultation, which was launched today, will run for 10 weeks until 26 December. It looks at how amendments will be made to the Nursing and Midwifery Order 2001, which sets out the NMC’s powers and duties.
Despite the NMC being a UK-wide body, the consultation paper states the changes are designed to give statutory powers to the NMC to regulate nursing associates in England only.
“All three devolved administrations are planning to assess how the role is implemented and utilised in England before making any decision to extend regulation of the role into their respective countries,” states the paper.
“A further amendment to the Nursing and Midwifery Order will be required should Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland seek to regulate nursing associates,” it adds.
“It’s critical that government drives through the necessary changes to our legislation”
The changes will be made possible through a section 60 order that will amend the 2001 legislation. The order will make it an offence in England to use the professional title nursing associate unless registered with the NMC under that title, according to the proposals put forward in the consultation.
The NMC said today that the consultation marked a “vital step” in the regulatory process, but added that it was “critical” that the government drove through the changes in time for the first set of associates to be regulated when they qualify in January 2019.
In order to do this, the NMC said it expected legislative changes to be in place by July 2018, so that it had six months to complete the activities that need to be in place in order to open the register.
This includes approving the final nursing associate standards, approving training courses and deciding upon annual registration fees.
Jackie Smith, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “It’s always been our ambition to open the register to nursing associates in January 2019, when the first trainees qualify.
“But in order to do so, it’s critical that government drives through the necessary changes to our legislation, to ensure that we’re able to protect the public from the moment the first qualified nursing associates begin to practise.”
Announcing the consultation, health minster Phillip Dunne said: “Nursing associates will play an extremely important role in supporting registered nurses and improving care but it is vital that they are supported by robust professional regulation.
“This will allow them to perform safely tasks in a range of health and care settings and will also reassure patients and the public that they are continuing to receive the highest quality of care from the NHS,” he said.
“I am encouraged by the enthusiasm of our first cohort of nursing associates”
Chief nursing officer for England Jane Cummings said: “I welcome this important opportunity for existing staff, patients and members of the public to inform new legislation to appropriately underpin this vital new role that will help shape our future multi-disciplinary workforce.
“I am encouraged by the enthusiasm of our first cohort of nursing associates and organisations leading the pilots nationally and look forward to working with government to further develop this new role, including regulation, to secure high standards of patient care,” she added.
Earlier this month, the government announced 5,000 nursing associates will be trained through apprenticeship in 2018, with an additional 7,500 being trained in 2019.
Last week, the NMC released an early first draft of the standards it is developing for nursing assciates so that universities already training associates through pilot sites could adjust their courses if required.