Can nursing associates solve our staffing crisis?

Learning disability nurses have disappeared from the register at an alarming rate

 Barney Newman
Trainee nursing associate Abbie Rix (left), with patient experience group member
Abul Kasem Picture: Barney Newman

With the stark decline in the number of registered nurses in the past decade, no sector understands the effect of inadequate staffing more than services for people with learning disabilities. The RCN has launched a campaign to encourage the public to speak out about nursing shortages.

It says there is an overall shortage of 40,000 nurses in England and there have been 157 extra admissions to hospital for every nurse recruited by NHS trusts in the past five years. The RCN wants a safe staffing law enacted in England, in the same way it has been in Wales and Scotland.

In particular, there is concern about the shortage of learning disability nurses, who have disappeared from the register at an alarming rate. There are a number of factors behind this including the disappearance of the bursary in England. The loss has hit the sector hard as the number of mature students who might otherwise have retrained, but need a little financial help to do so, has declined.

One of the suggested answers to the recruitment crisis in England has been the advent of nursing associates – a role that the UK’s other countries have not adopted, to date. As our analysis shows, the role is filling a gap that registered nurses cannot. Many see it as a return to the days of the state enrolled nurse and there is concern that it is getting nursing on the cheap.

Whatever your view, there is no doubt that many of those taking on the role are relishing the opportunity and are providing support to the nursing team. Some are using it as a way of fulfilling a life-long ambition to become a nurse and seem undaunted by the training involved.

To sign the RCN’s safe staffing petition, click here.

Related articles