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Who’s afraid of nursing associates?

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I know that some people see it as a controversial move, but I’m glad to hear that the role of nursing associate is to be created in 2016. 

We need to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and nurses for a number of reasons. The new role will address shortages in registered nurses, offer HCAs better opportunities for career progression and enable team skill mix to be refined to better reflect patient need.

I’m old enough to remember enrolled nurses, whose role was phased out in the 1990s when nurse education moved into the universities.

EN training was shorter than that of registered nurses, with less focus on academic study. As nursing became increasingly recognised as a

profession with an academic base on which to build nurses’ clinical skills, ENs were seen as outdated.

”Abolishing ENs and replacing them with unregulated HCAs has come at a cost”

But while the registered and enrolled nurse model may have needed to change, abolishing ENs and replacing them with unregulated HCAs has come at a cost. An awful lot of ENs had exactly the qualities we need in nurses providing hands-on patient care, and many were entirely capable of becoming registered nurses but lacked confidence in their study skills.

An old schoolmate of mine started out as an SEN because ‘I thought I was too thick for the RGN course’. However, she wasn’t thick – she was a late bloomer.

With a couple of years’ practice under her belt she qualified as an RGN and there was no stopping her; she went on to gain a PhD and become a senior nurse lecturer. How many people like her are we losing because they want something more than the HCA role currently offers, but are daunted by the prospect of degree-level study?

”To me, a bridging role makes sense because the gap between HCAs and registered nurses is too wide”

To me, a bridging role makes sense because the gap between HCAs and registered nurses is too wide. I appreciate that many people who fought for degree-only entry to nursing fear that the nursing associate role is a step back, but other professions cope with similar divides.

For example, paralegals aren’t seen as dumbing down the legal profession – they provide valuable services but have clear limits to their scope of responsibilities, and are answerable to the lawyers they work with. Some groups of paralegal are also regulated.

Surely it’s not beyond the nursing profession to create a similar supporting role with a clearly defined scope of practice?

Nursing is becoming an increasingly complex profession, and for me that’s all the more reason to create a role to bridge the nurse/HCA gap.

It would give HCAs more opportunities for career progression and higher income, ensure healthcare doesn’t miss out on a pool of potentially excellent practitioners who find the prospect of degree-level study too daunting, and enable nursing teams to make best use of registered nurses’ unique skills and abilities.

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