Professor Trish Morris-Thompson explains how a ‘bridging’ role between registered nurses and senior HCAs is already supporting safer patient care at Barchester Healthcare
If all vacancies for nurses in Barchester Healthcare’s more than 200 UK-wide care homes and hospitals are filled we employ 2,400 qualified nurses. That’s the minimum we need for the best quality care.
We never have a full complement of nurses, however: there are simply not enough nurses to go round, with 7% vacancies in the NHS and 9% in social care settings.
It is a problem that is certain to worsen as a rapidly ageing population needs more care, UK-wide, Europe-wide and globally.
A fascinating Nursing Times article of the 30th November explained the ‘associate nurse’ role, designed to bridge the gap between registered nurses and senior healthcare assistants.
Here’s a contribution to the debate: Barchester Healthcare is already successfully trialling a role known as ‘Care Practitioner’.
Training for the role is offered to senior carers who have the required maths and language abilities and who have achieved Level 3 apprenticeship, NVQ or a Diploma in Care. The training develops skills in minor clinical procedures such as wound dressing, undertaking physiological measurements, administration of medication, facilitating person-centred assessment, care planning and review, and leading a team.
”It is supervised and mentored by nurses, planned to allow them to concentrate on leadership and clinical oversight”
It is supervised and mentored by nurses, planned to allow them to concentrate on leadership and clinical oversight.
As the Nursing Times article made clear, moves in this direction are controversial. I can understand the view that we fought hard for a degree-level profession and that we should not retrench. I can understand it and I agree with it.
However, as an employer we work extraordinarily hard to recruit nurses in the UK and abroad. We offer terms and conditions similar to or more favourable than NHS rates, with the highest quality support, supervision and training. Nonetheless, it isn’t enough to resolve shortages.
”I can understand the view that we fought hard for a degree-level profession and that we should not retrench”
There is no prospect of a new cohort of nurses riding to our rescue, either: the revoking of bursaries for nursing training will make a bad situation worse. In short, neither the NHS nor social care has a choice: we have to bridge an otherwise incapacitating gap using the resources available to us.
To offer professionalisation at this level seems to me a reform with no downside.
”We have to bridge an otherwise incapacitating gap using the resources available to us”
The training and support must be right, of course, but that is an exciting prospect in itself. It will allow the best of our care workers opportunities that many passionately want, balancing up-skilling and remaining in front line care. It will support degree-level nurses. Above all, it will improve quality of life in hospitals and care homes.
Defining the role may be tricky – I prefer ‘Care Practitioner’ to ‘Associate Nurse’ - but risking offence to professional sensibilities is surely better than failing to grasp this vital and exciting opportunity, for all concerned.
Professor Trish Morris-Thompson is Director of Clinical Quality and Governance for Barchester Healthcare, the Visiting Professor of Nursing at Buckinghamshire University and an RCN Clinical Fellow