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‘Nurse’ job title needs more protection, statistics agency told

Jobs data should instead use protected title ‘registered nurse’ for safety and to avoid confusion, says complaint to Office for National Statistics
Picture of documents showing official crest and title of Office for National Statistics

Jobs data should instead use protected title ‘registered nurse’ for safety and to avoid confusion, says complaint to Office for National Statistics

A group of nurses has called for changes in the way the profession is classified in national statistics, saying the current system is confusing and potentially misleading.

In an open letter to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the group raises concerns about the body’s use of the term ‘nurse’ instead of the protected title ‘registered nurse’. They say this risks skewing the data because anyone can call themselves a ‘nurse’ even if they have no qualifications.

The letter is supported by leading nurse

Jobs data should instead use protected title ‘registered nurse’ for safety and to avoid confusion, says complaint to Office for National Statistics

Picture of documents showing official crest and title of Office for National Statistics
Picture: Alamy

A group of nurses has called for changes in the way the profession is classified in national statistics, saying the current system is confusing and potentially misleading.

In an open letter to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the group raises concerns about the body’s use of the term ‘nurse’ instead of the protected title ‘registered nurse’. They say this risks skewing the data because anyone can call themselves a ‘nurse’ even if they have no qualifications.

The letter is supported by leading nurse academics including Alison Leary, chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University. 'I am happy to sign it because ONS data categories not only affect how we look at this workforce in wider society but are also used in our everyday lives – for example insurance, banking, credit scores,' professor Leary said.

The ONS uses the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) 2020 to classify different jobs and professions. This is then used as a basis for national statistics and research. Nursing roles are currently categorised under the catch-all heading ‘nurses’ with various sub-categories such as community nurses, specialist nurses, nurse practitioners and mental health nurses.

Move comes amid campaign to protect the title of ‘nurse’ in law

Nurse Will Ball, who organised the letter, said the current system of data collection could provide an inaccurate view of nursing. Mr Ball, a research fellow at the University of Aberdeen, said: 'As an example, census responses to the occupation question will be classified using the SOC and anyone can legally say they work as a nurse, whether they are qualified and regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) or not.’

The letter says the fact anyone can call themselves a nurse is ‘an important patient safety issue in its own right’. It adds: ‘A lack of alignment in the SOC raises the potential for confusion and inaccuracy in official statistics.'

The move comes amid an ongoing campaign to protect the title of ‘nurse’ in law, which would limit its use to those registered with the NMC. Last year MPs voted against an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill that would have seen the title protected.

The letter to the ONS also calls for sub-categories of nursing to match up with the ‘main branches of practice’ including adult, children’s, mental health and learning disability nursing.

Campaigners would also like a separate category to be created for the role of nursing associate.

A spokesperson for the ONS said it would consider the letter carefully but that the overall structure of the SOC is reviewed as part of a ten-yearly cycle and major changes would have to wait until the next revision.


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