The introduction of nursing associates may help to attract workers into NHS assistant roles in the face of stiff competition with other industries for European workers after Brexit, but it also risks reducing the number of support staff in social care, MPs have been told.
The chief executive of Health Education England said last week that the “biggest risk” to the health and care workforce from the UK leaving the European Union was fewer people being recruited into assistant roles.
“We are going to be competing for the non‑professionally qualified workforce with hotels, agriculture and tourism”
The sector would in future face more competition from other industries – such as agriculture and tourism – for EU workers coming to the UK, warned Professor Ian Cumming, during a Commons’ health select committee session on priorities for health and care services during Brexit negotiations.
“Our biggest risk in the short term, as a result of Brexit, may be in the non-professionally qualified workforce across health and social care,” he told MPs.
But he said introducing nursing associates in England – a new “bridging” role between support workers and registered nurses that will be trained in two years – would make the NHS a more attractive employer, because if offered a chance for career development.
In addition, it was expected that nursing associates would be able to go on to become a degree-level nurse with a further two years of training, he noted.
“The nurs[ing] associate programme that we have introduced… is part of a strategy that we are calling ‘careers, not jobs’, to encourage people to come into careers in the NHS where, even if you are starting with limited academic qualifications, we can offer you this opportunity to progress,” he said.
“This is because we are going to be competing for the non‑professionally qualified workforce with hotels, agriculture and tourism, and we need to make sure that we are an attractive employer,” he added.
However, he later acknowledged there was a risk the introduction of nursing associates in the NHS could result in support workers being lured away from social care and into the health service.
To help mitigate this, many of the nursing associate training programmes being overseen by HEE included placements within social care organisations, he told the committee of cross-bench MPs.
“Because health is pursuing the policy of nursing associates, we [need to ensure we ] do not then take all the care staff out of social care”
“There is an area on which we are keen to make sure we do not have an adverse impact – which is that, because health is pursuing the policy of nursing associates, we do not then take all the care staff out of the social care environment and make things much worse in that environment,” said Professor Cumming.
“One thing we have done for many of the nurs[ing] associate training posts is to have rotations through nursing homes or social care placements,” he said.
“And we are encouraging nursing homes and social care providers to put people onto nurs[ing] associate programmes as well, because we think nursing associates will be just as valuable working in social care and in the community as they are going to be in hospitals and in general practice,” he said.
“But it is absolutely a risk, and for that workforce we have to consider health and care to be a single workforce because people move freely between them,” he added.