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‘The long-term plan includes a host of worthy ambitions’

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January was neatly bookended by two significant developments for nursing. 

The NHS Long Term Plan was unveiled at the start of the month and the first nursing associates were registered at the end.

The latter we have known about and discussed since the new role was controversially announced in 2015. I won’t go through the details of the debate again, but concerns about nursing associates being used to substitute registered nurses have not gone away. 

We shall see what happens in the long run with the role, but good luck to all the nursing associates starting out in their new career over the coming weeks and months. As you would expect, nursing associates are mentioned in the long-term plan – three times to be precise. 

More widely, it includes a whole host of worthy ambitions and ways to spend the NHS funding boost promised by the government. Nursing Times has analysed the blueprint and drawn a thread through the parts most relevant to nursing. Among them are promises to boost nurse education and training, the community and primary care sector, maternity services and mental health care. 

So far, organisations representing nursing have largely welcomed the plan. This positive response was probably influenced by the fact that, while ambitious in scope, it recognises there are significant challenges to be overcome, not least staffing shortages and cultural shifts. That recognition is crucial to the credibility of the plan. 

It is good to see that England’s new chief nursing officer Dr Ruth May will be on the panel of experts developing the workforce implementation plan, which is expected later in the year and intends to explain how the workforce aspects of the plan itself will be realised. No easy task!

Writing in this month’s Nursing Times for the first time since she took up office, Dr May highlights the “pivotal role” she hopes nurses and midwives will play “in transforming care” via the roll-out of the plan over the next decade. As she also rightly states in her article, nursing makes a “tremendous contribution” to health and care settings across England.

Only time will tell whether the NHS will achieve the ambitions set out in the long-term plan – a decade is a long time. But the direction of travel seems to be largely sensible, which is a good start. Nursing Times will be closely monitoring its progress.

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