At least a further 2,000 people are expected to be trained as nursing associates in the NHS and social care during 2018, the head of the workforce body behind the new role has said.
Ian Cumming, chief executive of Health Education England, said the body would be working with employers to understand how the forthcoming apprenticeship levy could be used to fund extra programmes more quickly in the future.
“From next year our intention is that we continue to train nursing associates across the NHS and social care”
Speaking at an HEE board meeting yesterday, he also reiterated previous comments about the high level of interest from people wanting to become associates during the first wave of training that had begun this year.
“From next year, our intention is that we continue to train nursing associates across the NHS and social care,” Professor Cumming told the meeting in London.
“And we will be looking to work with employers to try and identity the use of the apprentice levy to be able to roll out the nursing associate role at a faster pace than we would have been able to do had we been purely dependant on using funding from within HEE to do that,” he said.
Around 1,000 trainee nursing associates started two-year programmes at pilot sites across England in January, with a further 1,000 set to begin at more test sites in April.
“We will be looking to try and use the apprentice levy to be able to roll out the nursing associate role at a faster pace”
The pilot sites have been funded by HEE but in future it is expected that employers will pay for associate training through the government’s new apprenticeship levy – which will be applied to all organisations with a paybill of more than £3m a year from this April.
Professor Cumming said that, while HEE did not know the exact number of associates that could be trained in 2018, the body was “expecting that to be an expansion on the 2,000 that we have trained this year”.
The final number would depend on the level of interest from employers, he said, noting: “In the first round we could have easily filled these training posts on many, many, many occasions with some really high calibre applicants.”
At the meeting, Professor Cumming was also asked by a board member about how the evaluation of the pilot training programmes would address patient safety concerns surrounding the introduction of the new role, especially relating to nursing staff ratios.
Mary Elford, a non-executive HEE director, who is also vice chair of East London NHS Foundation Trust, noted there was “a concern about how this work will relate to safe staffing figures and the correct ratios the NHS expects to be in place in terms of different registrant groups”.
Professor Cumming said the independent evaluation would be carried out by a university on behalf of HEE, but that the regulator NHS Improvement would be looking at the safe staffing issues.
“We will be clear about the roles these individuals can be used in but what makes a safe nursing team on a ward isn’t our territory”
He also noted that there was a “desire to move away from ratios” of nurses to patients, because “you’ve got to consider the other allied health professionals that may be in the environment at the time”.
“We [HEE] are responding to a demand from the system that said they wanted a role that sits between a healthcare assistant and a degree-level nurse. How they are used safely is NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission’s territory rather than ours,” he said.
“We will be clear about what the competencies are. We will be clear about the roles these individuals can be used in, but what makes a safe nursing team on a ward isn’t our territory,” he added.
In a statement later provided to Nursing Times, an HEE spokeswoman said the two-year evaluation of the pilot would be overseen by independent research organisation the Office for Public Management.
“The evaluation will be engaging with patients and service users and will assess the impact on patients and safety during placements and in the workplace. HEE is responding to demand from the system. NHS Improvement/CQC take the lead on safe staffing,” she added.
She did not confirm to Nursing Times whether nursing associates trained in 2018 would be used to test the role or if they would be included within the evaluation.