The head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has responded to concerns about interim arrangements for allowing pilot site nursing associates onto the regulator’s register, by insisting they will not be able to join if they pose a threat to public protection.
At an NMC council meeting in London on Wednesday, the nursing regulator agreed that it would go ahead with plans to allow associates who were already in training to join the register, even though the NMC has not yet approved any courses for the new role.
Under the plans that were confirmed today, the 2,000 nursing associate trainees who began programmes at 35 pilot sites in England in early 2017 will be able to register with the regulator if they have gained a “comparable” qualification to one from an NMC-approved course.
The NMC has assessed the curriculum for pilot site trainees – drawn up by Health Education England – and concluded it has “broad comparability” to the requirements it expects to set.
But it will only register nursing associates from these programmes once HEE has checked test sites are delivering training according to the curriculum.
“Both the Department of Health and HEE understand that council does not want to wave anyone onto the register”
In addition, the university that delivers an associate’s training will need to confirm to the NMC that the person has met its, as yet, unpublished standards of proficiency for the role.
The associate will also have to meet the NMC’s usual requirements of having good health and good character.
Before the NMC council agreed to this approach today, some concerns were raised at the meeting about how the regulator would be assured that pilot programmes were delivering “comparable” training.
Council member Sir Hugh Bayley questioned how far the NMC would be involved in the way HEE checks the programmes – which will be carried out by an independent organisation to be commissioned by HEE – especially in light of the fact the NMC will be developing its education standards at the same time.
NMC assistant strategy director Emma Westcott said it was important to bear in mind that the checks would ensuring training programmes were “comparable”.
“We need to be assured public protection is not being comprised”
But she also stressed that the NMC would not just “wave” people onto the register.
“Both the Department of Health and HEE understand that council does not want to wave anyone onto the register – it wants to know that each of the 2,000 people is meeting the threshold standards,” she said.
Meanwhile, NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith stressed to the meeting that the regulator’s priority was public protection.
“Hugh’s point is that we need to be assured public protection is not being comprised in any way,” she said. “I think that is very firmly understood by DH, HEE and this council. And we will not be putting people on the register where we think that is the case.”
The NMC council also agreed at the meeting to publish an early version of draft proficiencies for nursing associates – set to be released shortly – so that pilot sites could make changes to ongoing programmes.
The government asked the NMC at the end of 2016 to regulate nursing associates, at which point HEE had already announced two-year pilot programmes would be going ahead from early 2017.
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Previously, the head of the regulator has said nursing associates have been developed in the “wrong order”, because the NMC would usually set the standards before courses could begin.
The NMC is still waiting for legislative changes to allow it to set up a new part of its register for nursing associates.