The title of nursing associates should not be used for the new support worker role being introduced by the government in England next year, because it wrongly implies they will be nurses, a peer has warned.
Baroness Audrey Emerton, a nurse by background and cross bencher in the House of Lords, said she had “no problem” with the “general direction of travel” for nursing associates, which are being introduced to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and nurses across both the NHS and social care.
“I have no problem with the general direction of travel at all – but I do want to protect the word nurse”
However, she objected to the use of the title nursing associate – and also a previously suggested title of associate nurse – because she said the word “nurse” needed to be protected.
Baroness Emerton said another title was needed to more closely reflect the kind of work those in the new role would be required to carry out, suggesting associate health carer was more appropriate.
Her comments underlined previous concerns she raised during a House of Lords debate over the summer, in which she claimed the title of the role could be confusing for patients who would think they were a registered nurse.
During the debate she warned that a similar role in the past – the state enrolled nurse – was often misused and that the likelihood of this occurring again would be greater if the new role’s title was not changed.
Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing’s international centenary conference in London this week, she said: “I am not happy with support workers being called an associate nurse or nursing associate.
“When you have the experience of being out in the community and see what is going on in the community – particularly where there are agencies sending people out how haven’t got clue what they’re doing – we have got to be very careful that everyone who goes out understands the holistic needs of the patients which may verge between health and social care,” she said.
“I think an associate health carer would be a better name [instead of nursing associates]”
Baroness Audrey Emerton
“I have no problem with the general direction of travel at all – but I do want to protect the word nurse. Nursing is in law safeguarded by registration,” said the peer.
“Although these [nursing associates] are going to be probably registered the word nursing immediately gives the impression they are nurses,” she said.
“I think an associate health carer would be a better name, because it could mean they could either go into social work, having seen what happens in the community, or go into nursing,” she added.
When later asked how the RCN could improve its political influence, Baroness Emerton said the union should ensure its members were fully informed about nursing proposals being made by the government so they could become “engrossed” in mattes that affect them.
She added that she had recently spoken to 10 nurses who had never heard of nursing associates and urged the RCN to help “spread the word”.
A total of 2,000 nursing associates will begin training on a two-year programme at 11 test sites across England from January 2017.
A review by the Professional Standards Authority published last week recommended the new role should be registered as an interim measure, before a further asessment is made as to whether it should be regulated once it has been developed further.
The government is expected to make a decision about whether or not regulate nursing associates in the coming weeks.