Unions and academics have welcomed the introduction of a ”nursing associate” position for senior healthcare assistants, but have stressed the “fundamental” role of registered nurses in ensuring patient safety.
The government announced yesterday its plans for the new role, which is designed to bridge the gap between healthcare support workers and registered nurses.
Nursing associates will complete ”on-the-job training” through an apprenticeship that will lead to a foundation degree, said the Department of Health in a statement.
The Royal College of Nursing said the new position was welcome recognition of the value of healthcare assistants and agreed with the government’s claim that it would free up time for nurses to use their clinical skills.
“This initiative is about enabling people in unregulated positions, supporting registered nurses, to access training via a clear structure, and this is very welcome”
It noted the government’s plan for nursing associates to be able to go on to gain a nurse degree in a shorter amount of time.
The union said this would provide a route into the profession to people who would otherwise have been denied the opportunity.
But it stressed those in the new role would only “assist” registered nurses, who it reminded were clinical decision-makers, with degree-level knowledge and skills.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “This initiative is about enabling people in unregulated positions, supporting registered nurses, to access training via a clear structure, and this is very welcome.”
“The fundamental role of the registered nurse does not change - studies show that the number of registered nurses has a significant impact on patient outcomes”
She added: “The fundamental role of the registered nurse does not change - studies show that the number of registered nurses has a significant impact on patient outcomes.
“A registered nurse is a clinical decision-maker, with degree-level knowledge and skills, considerable experience of caring for people with multiple or complex conditions, plus the ability to supervise and educate more junior staff.”
Ms Davies previously warned the introduction of a role to bridge the gap between HCAs and nurses would be a “retrograde step”.
Unison noted the new role could improve access to training for HCAs, who have previously struggled to get it. But it warned that those who do not want to go on to become a nurse could be “undermined”.
“We need to ensure these new roles are not used as a cheap way to replace registered nurses”
It also pointed to concerns about whether the government was trying to re-introduce state enrolled nurses.
Unison head of health Christina McAnea said the new role must not be used as a “cheap” way to replace registered nurses.
“Evidence shows that the greater the number of registered nurses to patients the better patient care outcomes are. And we need to ensure these new roles are not used as a cheap way to replace registered nurses,” said Ms McAnea.
“Universities already routinely provide a range of foundation degrees… but proper consultation on this development is crucial”
“If the government is serious about tackling the nursing shortage then they need to develop a long term national staffing strategy in partnership,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Council of Deans of Health – which represents nursing and midwifery faculties across the UK – echoed union comments.
It welcomed the improved education and training opportunities for HCAs, but stressed the plans should not blur the boundaries with registered nurses.
Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans, said: “Universities already routinely provide a range of foundation degrees and other qualifications that can lead on to health professional programmes, but proper consultation on this development is crucial.
“This role mustn’t be used as an excuse to reduce the numbers of graduate health professionals. The evidence is clear that increasing registered nurse numbers with graduate-level education improves the quality and safety of patient care,” she added.
The NHS Employers organisation noted many trusts had already developed associate practitioner positions and said this would provide a “valuable resource” as the new role is considered.
NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: “It’s important however not to pre-empt any decisions about these roles until the consultation has taken place. We will seek the views of employers during the months to come on the training and deployment of the proposed role.”