Plans for nursing associate role gather pace

Health Education England publishes consultation results about controversial new role

Plans to create 1,000 new ‘nursing associates’ by 2017 have moved a step closer.

Health Education England (HEE) has today published the findings of a public consultation into the role.

The new post was first proposed by the government last year and is designed to sit between healthcare assistants (HCAs) and registered nurses.

The role will give fundamental aspects of direct care, but nursing associates will not independently review treatment plans, or evaluate progress to make decisions on care.

Five workshops will now take place in July to determine the scope of practice for the new role. Early test sites are also being established, and 1,000 students will be recruited to start training in 2017.

HEE said the majority of the 1,384 consultation respondents – who included nurses, healthcare assistants and representatives from professional bodies – welcomed the new role.

Yet some concerns were raised that the proposals could be seen as ‘nursing on the cheap’ or even the ‘dumbing down’ of the profession.

HEE director of nursing Lisa Bayliss Pratt said: ‘The role is neither a panacea for future workforce supply, or a substitute for increasing the supply of graduate registered nurses… patient safety remains paramount and is a determining factor that underlines the role.

‘We do need to protect what we value across the nursing and care profession but we also need to collectively agree that we can’t always hold on to what we have done in the past – change is inevitable.’

Overall, respondents said the nursing associate role could benefit fundamental care, increase contact time and communication with patients, and support registered nurses. Yet concerns were raised that the role would ‘undermine or be a substitute’ for registered nurses.

While the role was seen by a number of respondents as a valuable opportunity for healthcare assistants to progress into more advanced roles, some respondents deemed it ‘unnecessary’, as progression routes for healthcare assistants already existed, and that HCAs and advanced practitioners already provided an adequate level of care.

RCN director of nursing, policy and practice Donna Kinnair said: ‘It’s clear that there were widely shared concerns that the nursing associate role could be used as a substitute for registered nurses, and it is positive to see that HEE have acknowledged this worry.

‘The consultation responses make clear that there is a keen interest in getting the nursing associate role right, and the early test sites must be carefully monitored to ensure the new role can be introduced in a way that improves the safety and experience of patients.’

Further information:

HEE report