Plans to train 1,000 nursing associates from 2016 revealed by government

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith has pledged to work with the goverment and Health Education England to fully develop a new nursing associate role ahead of a full consultation on the plans next year

An associate nurse role that has the potential to ‘transform the nursing and care workforce’ has been launched by the government.

Nursing routemap

The role, designed to fit alongside nurses and healthcare support workers, will create a new route into the profession. One thousand training posts are expected to be created next year, following a consultation.

England’s chief nursing officer Jane Cummings said: 'Health and care assistants are a really important part of the team and should be given the opportunity to develop.

'This new role will provide a valuable addition to this work by creating a bridge between senior health and care assistants and registered nurses. It will also benefit registered nurses by providing additional support in meeting the needs of our patients.'

Health Education England’s director of nursing Lisa Bayliss-Pratt said: ‘The development of this new role has the potential to transform the nursing and care workforce.

‘We want to be able to create a career pathway with progression opportunities to enable job satisfcation for those who want to develop themselves in this important profession,’ she said.

There have been rumours for some time about the introduction of the new role, including a pilot scheme being confirmed to run at 30 hospitals next year, but few details about how nursing associates would be regulated and funded.

However, during a parliamentary debate about funding nurse training on Monday (December 14), health minister Ben Gummer revealed that the new level six role will be ‘an alternative route into nursing, whereby nurses will be able to earn while they learn from healthcare assistant level all the way to a full nursing qualification at degree level.

'It will be possible for them to do so as mature students, which means it might take a bit longer, but they will be able to earn all the way from an existing job to gain a nursing qualification.'

Questioned about funding, Mr Gummer added: ‘We are in detailed discussions with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) about precisely how the apprenticeship route will work.

‘The council is the independent regulator and has to certify that the qualification matches the existing degree/university route.

‘The qualification has to have complete equality of both esteem and rigour. Of course we envisage the apprentices earning a salary.

‘I think this is potentially one of the most exciting innovations in the workforce of the NHS for several decades. It opens up nursing to a whole range of existing workers who have not had an opportunity before.’

A full consultation on the new role will be launched in January at the same time as a consultation on scrapping the existing bursary system for nursing students and replacing it with student loans.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: 'This is a welcome recognition of the value of healthcare assistants, and an initiative which will allow them to develop their skills. We have campaigned for some time for this group to access recognised training and development to enable them to fulfil their roles safely and competently.

'Some of these roles will be new but part of this initiative is about enabling people in unregulated positions, supporting registered nurses, to access training via a clear structure, and this is very welcome. These nursing associate roles should release time for our nurses to care and to utilise their clinical skills appropriately.

'This scheme also gives a process for those people in supporting roles to take a shorter route into graduate nursing.'

NMC registrar Jackie Smith said: ‘The introduction of this new role is an important development for the nursing profession and as the regulator for nursing and midwifery, we will be carefully considering our role moving forward.

‘The starting point for any new role in health care has to be its contribution to improving patient safety and quality, and as such there will be some important considerations, including whether nursing associates should be regulated.

‘It is for the government to determine the policy position in discussion with others. But while we are supportive of widening access into the nursing profession, it will be important that any new routes into the profession have the same robust approach that the existing university degree route provides.’

In response to the announcement, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: 'We know that many trusts have already developed innovative associate practitioner roles and their experience will be a valuable resource as this new initiative is considered.

'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.'

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