Unison warns against 'quick fix' as nursing associate consultation opens

Health Education England launches consultation into the new 'nursing associate' role

Unison is warning that 1,000 proposed new ‘nursing associates’ should not be considered a quick fix to plug 'gaping shortages of registered nurses'.

As the government today launched a consultation into the new role, designed to sit between healthcare assistants and registered nurses, the trade union is calling instead for training for the thousands of healthcare assistants who are already employed. 

The nursing associate, as proposed by the government before Christmas, will work ‘hands on’ to deliver ‘the fundamental aspects of direct care’, the consultation document said. 

It also outlined tasks nursing associates will not complete, including independently reviewing treatment plans, or measuring and evaluating progress to make decisions on patient care.

Nursing associates will not be expected to lead or design the care planning process, manage or oversee care interventions, or provide clinical expertise.

Health Education England director of nursing Lisa Bayliss-Pratt told Nursing Standard today that the role isn't about ‘dumbing down’ but ‘upskilling’.

But Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: ‘There is no quick fix to plug the gaping shortages of registered nurses, which have been made worse as a result of the cap on agency spending and the clampdown on nurses from overseas.

‘Unison wants to ensure that the thousands of healthcare assistants who look after patients day in and day out get the training and opportunities they deserve. Only then will their skills be properly rewarded and valued. That will require investment, a system of regulation and safeguards to stop them being used as a cheap substitute for nurses.’

Profesor Bayliss-Pratt said: ‘We want [nursing associates] to be able to do more than the healthcare assistants we’ve currently got, being responsible for providing the fundamentals of hands-on care – for example, recognising when somebody is deteriorating and knowing when to get help. There may be some aspects around dressings and observations, and probably taking bloods.

‘We’ll have to create a scope of practice for these individuals, and it’s highly important that doesn’t overlap into what graduate registered nurses will do.’

When asked what would be done to ensure the new roles do not lead to a loss of registered nurses, Professor Bayliss-Pratt said staff budgets are a matter for NHS trusts.

She added: ‘What’s important is that we look at outcomes for patients, not just staffing ratios.

‘We know research is quite limited around that but we want to ask, how do we get the right nursing and care teams in place with the right knowledge and skill sets to make sure patients have the best outcomes?

‘This is an exciting opportunity to examine what the nursing and care workforce needs to look like and to consider the shape of it moving forward.’

Read the consultation document here.  


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