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Embracing the nursing associate role in emergency care

What can the role offer in the emergency department?

What can the role offer in the emergency department?


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The introduction of the nursing associate role is one of the most significant changes to nursing in the 21st century, but what does it mean for nursing in emergency care?

Care and treatment in emergency departments are prescribed by emergency medical practitioners and advanced practice health professionals.

Driving factors behind the new role

The premise of the development of the nursing associate role was to address the skills and knowledge gap between healthcare assistants and the registered nursing workforce. While it would be reasonable to argue that this gap in workforce is not a driving force for considering the role of the nursing associate in emergency care, there are other factors that need to be considered when contemplating the potential of workforce transformation in the emergency department.

First, perhaps we need to be assured of the capability of nursing associates. They undertake a two-year foundation degree, which is 50% practical and 50% theory, to equip them with the knowledge and skills to provide safe, compassionate care as directed by a registered nurse.

They are accountable for their practice as set out in their standards of proficiency and governed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) through registration, which means that as part of the workforce they are skilled, knowledgeable and accountable members of the care team.

To consider the nursing associate role, driving factors include the dwindling supply of registered nurses as a result of Brexit, the challenge of recruitment and retention of nurses, and the decreasing number of students entering nurse education programmes. 

Advantages of joining the emergency care team

Nursing associates do not simply fill vacancy gaps. So, what would be the advantages of them becoming members of the emergency care team?

They will be knowledgeable skilled members of the team who complement the provision of patient care in the settings where they work and have the expertise to provide safe and compassionate nursing care. One example might be caring for older patients in the emergency setting.

'Nursing associates are competent in medicine management, limited to the scope of their role, but again offer an opportunity for timely administration'

It is estimated that more than 75% of patients presenting to emergency care are older with complex and multifaceted problems.

Most older patients need emergency assessment and care, and assistance with a range of their normal activities over the hours during which they will be in the emergency department. The nursing associate could do this.  

Another example may be pain management, the most prevalent cause for attendance in the emergency setting. Nursing associates are competent in medicine management, limited to the scope of their role, but again offer an opportunity for timely administration and continued assessment of pain with some groups of patients.

Effective team membership

There are many other examples that could be drawn on, but the overall message is nursing associates are skilled, knowledgeable, competent and, importantly, accountable to the NMC for their practice.

They have the potential to be highly effective members of the emergency care team when considering their role as part of a comprehensive workforce transformation.


About the author

Jacqueline Price is principal lecturer at the school of health and social work, the University of Hertfordshire

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