The Nursing and Midwifery Council is considering opening a new section of the nursing register for so called “associate nurses”.
This would be the new name given to advanced healthcare assistants who are often called “assistant practitioners” but are not qualified nurses.
At a meeting of the NMC last week, the regulator agreed to draw up plans that would allow these healthcare assistants onto the nursing register and, possibly, to require them to hold a relevant national vocational qualification and receive specified training from their employer.
An NMC team is to look at training requirements and other measures that would be needed for the support roles.
The council is also proposing that all HCAs should practise only “under the direction and supervision of a registered nurse or midwife”.
However, Unison said the plans did not go far enough.
The union’s head of nursing Gail Adams said: “It’s a missed opportunity. It’s not going to address the public protection issues - there haven’t been sufficient discussions with employers to date over whether this is the right direction.”
She welcomed the move towards registration of assistant practitioners but said they were a small proportion of the healthcare assistant workforce, of which Unison represents 100,000.
In June, Nursing Times revealed that a Department of Health-funded study had suggested healthcare assistants now spent twice as much time on direct patient care as nurses.
The authoritative study from University of Oxford academics found that half of healthcare assistants entered the role with ambitions of becoming a nurse and many performed complex procedures such as female catheterisation, taking bloods and carrying out ECGs.