Nursing associate regulation could cost £4 million to set up, says NMC

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has set out the benefits and risks of regulating nursing associates.
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The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) says regulation of the nursing associate role could cost about £4 million to set up, according to the regulator’s council papers.

Picture: Barney Newman

The documents have been drawn up to support a discussion of the issue at the next NMC council meeting, which is due to take place on 25 January. The papers state that preliminary running costs would need to be met by the government until any new register became self-funding, with each nursing associate paying a fee.

Existing registrants’ fees would not be used to fund regulation of the new role, intended to be a bridge between fully qualified nurses and healthcare assistants.

NMC recruitment

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote to the NMC in November last year, asking it to consider becoming the regulator for the role.

The council would need to change its legislation to create a new part of the register for nursing associates. It states that the government is committed to implementing this process, which is expected to take place within two years.

Until legislation is in place, no one could qualify as a nursing associate and be regulated by the NMC.

Health Education England (HEE) has set up pilot nursing associate training programmes. The first 1,000 trainees began in December last year, with a further cohort of 1,000 due to start in March.

Meeting requirements

Should the NMC become the regulator, it would have full authority over all aspects of the education and training of nursing associates. The council said students from the HEE pilot would ultimately have to meet NMC requirements.

The NMC states that confidence in the regulator could be ‘damaged significantly’ if it does not act as regulator for nursing associates, and there could be a risk to public protection if nurses and nursing associates are regulated by different bodies.

The regulator considers it ‘crucial’ that the role of nursing associate sits within a career pathway that makes progression to becoming a nurse a reality.

But it also warns that given the tasks undertaken by nurses and nursing associates, the two roles will have ‘significant overlaps’ and there is potential for confusion. The NMC should ensure clarity, including clear structures for delegation and supervision.

The regulator said that while qualified nursing associates could practise across the UK, it would remain a ‘matter for each of the countries separately’ to decide whether to make the role available.

Union support

RCN head of education Anne Corrin said the college ‘strongly supports’ the regulation of nursing associates.

‘Regulation will ensure all nursing associates receive the same standard of education and training. Only by regulating all support roles can we protect patients properly, by making sure quality of care is consistent throughout the UK.

‘It’s vital that despite the financial pressures that many NHS trusts are under, they do not replace registered nurses with nursing associates to save on costs. Without the right number of registered, graduate nurses, patient care suffers and the results can be catastrophic.’

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