Monday this week was the first day that nursing associates were able to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council register – around 1,800 are expected to qualify and come on board over the next few months.
Despite earning less than registered nurses and midwives these new registrants will pay the same annual fee because, according to the NMC, they will require the same level of regulation.
This landmark event is the end of a journey that started just over three years ago with the government announcement of the new role, which was originally proposed in the Shape of Caring review by Lord Willis.
The route to the significant event this week has been rather bumpy, with a number of concerns being persistently voiced along the way. Those concerns were summed up in the summer of last year in the Royal College of Nursing response to the NMC consultation on nursing associates. The response was the result of workshops and a UK-wide survey that received 2,500 responses.
”Nursing associates who will be joining the register report positive experiences”
The most common concern about the new role voiced in the college’s response was that nursing associates would be used as substitutes for registered nurses. This would mean a proposed partial solution to the nursing shortage would diminish rather than enhance the nursing workforce. Alongside this were concerns that the role is “ill-defined”.
But looking at the role in a positive way, the college did accept that it could act as a bridge for healthcare assistants to become registered nurses and boost nurse numbers in the long term. Indeed, nursing associates who will be joining the register report positive experiences.
For example, Tracy Woodham trained as a nursing associate at Livewell Southwest. She said: “It’s been really hard work, but I’ve loved everything about it. As a result of this, I’m going to study for my nursing degree, so I’ll have gone from healthcare assistant to registered nurse with the support of Livewell Southwest and the trainee nursing associate programme. It’s something I’d never have done otherwise, I would have thought it was too late.”
And it is not just about the nursing associates themselves. Their patients will also benefit. As Ms Woodham also commented:
“I’ve always had compassion and taken pride in my work, but now I have the training, knowledge and confidence to provide so much more for the people we look after. It is so rewarding and I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity.”
”Despite doubts about the role, there are hopefully within it some positives for the future workforce”
So experiences like this make us appreciate that this week was indeed a milestone for the nursing workforce. And despite doubts about the role, there are hopefully within it some positives for the future workforce.
We need those in management positions to keep their eye on how the role develops and ensure that new nursing associates are given the leadership and support they need to succeed.
Most importantly they need to avoid the pitfalls that have been outlined, making sure that nursing associates will add to rather than detract from the nursing profession and the delivery of patient care.