In its Council meeting tomorrow the Nursing and Midwifery Council will debate whether it will accept the invitation to regulate the new nursing associate role.
It’s a pretty important day. Although most people think it’s a done deal, it will be the first time for many of us to hear the views of the Council members, and understand just why this role should – or should not – be overseen by the regulator, which has previously just been responsible for keeping the register of nurses and midwives.
Whatever happens tomorrow, it is a pretty historic day for the profession. Its regulator is almost certainly about to formally introduce a new member to the nursing family, and must work out new rules for its accountability and responsibility in practice. This new role could change the type of care offered by nurses, their scope of practice and the relationship they have with other professionals and patients or service users.
“The change has been stimulated by a dire shortage of nurses”
Of course the change has been stimulated by a dire shortage of nurses. It isn’t better for patients or even better for nurses – this role is inspired by a need for people to provide care, and as traditional routes have failed, something different has to be tried.
“We are where we are” has pretty much become the mantra of the profession. The government cut back on training places, and restricted salaries and cut benefits so that many of the nurses who secured training places decided not to stay in the profession.
“The nursing associate seems to be the only solution on the table”
So now we’ve got this problem we might as well fix it. And the nursing associate seems to be the only solution on the table. But if we are going to have this role, then it’s vital to ensure the public is protected. Introducing the role, formalising what it will do, and then regulating it to ensure standards of good practice are set and poor practitioners are rooted out is the only way to protect the public if this role is implemented.
And while there have been many negative comments about the new role’s effect on patient care, there are some positives about its introduction. It will offer a route into nursing for those who lack the academic skills, or often simply the confidence in those skills, to cope with degree-level training; many of these will provide excellent patient care and may progress to become nurses. It will also mean another swathe of the workforce providing direct patient care will be regulated.
Ultimately, whether the role is a positive or negative development, in the light of the UK losing nurses from overseas and fewer students graduating into the profession, according to the chief nurses I have been speaking to there really doesn’t seem to be any other way to plug the workforce gap.
“It will be interesting to see how people react to the news”
My money, of course, is on the NMC accepting the invitation to regulate the nursing associate role. And it will be interesting to see how people react to the news. Chief nurses, I guess, will mainly be happy. Their academic colleagues not so much.
But whatever happens, all I ask for is a bit of honesty about why we need it and how we can ensure that it doesn’t risk patient care.