The NMC will take into account the difficulties of working in unfamiliar areas of practice when receiving complaints about nurses during a surge in the swine flu pandemic.
A 12-point position statement, published last week by the NMC, follows concerns raised by senior nurses about the lack of clear guidance from the regulator on working during the pandemic, as revealed by Nursing Times.
Several directors of nursing are known to have contacted the Department of Health over concerns that nurses would refuse to work outside of their usual area of practice because of concerns about being struck off.
The NMC said in its statement it recognised the pandemic could mean registered nurses “may need to be more flexible and adaptable than usual” by for example “caring for people in unfamiliar settings or areas of practice”.
However it suggested nurses should not confuse working outside of their usual setting with working outside of their competence.
The NMC said: “You must recognise and work within the limits of your competence although this should not be used to avoid providing care when it is needed because the setting is unfamiliar. If in doubt, find out from your employer what is expected of you and seek additional support or training as necessary.”
The regulator also said it would “recognise that there may be difficulties in providing care where resources are scarce or there are shortages of staff”.
“In considering any complaint made about a nurse or midwife working during the swine flu pandemic, the NMC will take all the issues into account. This could include the resources available to the nurse or midwife and the problems of working in unfamiliar areas of practice.
“The primary requirement for all nurses and midwives is to respond responsibly and reasonably to the circumstances they face,” it added.
A letter sent last week from the Department of Health to trusts said that the first supplies of swine flu vaccine would reach NHS acute hospitals from 21 October. “These supplies should be used to protect frontline NHS staff as well as any inpatients in at-risk groups in hospital who clinicians feel need to be vaccinated,” it said.
A supply of vaccine will be sent to every primary care trust, ambulance trust and mental health trust in the week beginning 26 October. The first supplies of vaccine should start arriving at general practices during the same week.
National director for NHS flu resilience Ian Dalton repeated calls for staff to be vaccinated despite reservations. Speaking to the Ambulance Service Network conference last week, Professor Dalton said: “Vaccination will be a key protective element for staff and their families.” He noted the process had the support of unions, including the Royal College of Nursing and Unison.”
However, Nursing Times’ latest survey on swine flu vaccination has suggested nurses’ confidence in the vaccine has fallen over the last two months – with 47 per cent saying they would not get vaccinated compared to 31 per cent in August.