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Nursing associate role ‘has made things worse for social care’

New role is taking staff away from care sector, says Health Education England chief

New role is taking staff away from care sector, says Health Education England chief


Ian Cumming. Picture: Terence Philips

The introduction of the nursing associates programme has made life worse not better for the social care sector, the head of Health Education England (HEE) said.

HEE chief executive Ian Cumming revealed many acute hospital trusts needed to recruit new healthcare support workers to replace those who had gone to train as nursing associates.

A cohort of 2,000 nursing associates are studying at 35 universities in England for the role, which is designed to bridge the gap between support workers and nurses.

Professor Cumming told an audience of senior NHS staff and managers: ‘The nursing associate programme made things worse not better for social care.

'Trusts taking part put forward their healthcare support workers for the programme, who then had to be replaced. Where did they turn to in order to do that – the social care sector of course.’

Professor Cumming was speaking at Confed 18, the annual conference of the NHS Confederation, which speaks for NHS providers and service commissioners.

Role 'widens participation'

He praised the associate programme for providing ‘a route that widens participation and inclusion’ in the health service.

He said workforce planning was one of the biggest challenges affecting the future of the health service and that staffing needed to grow by 3-5% per year in the next decade.

Professor Cumming added: ‘We can train more, we can recruit new staff, or we can keep the ones we have – we have to address all three of these.’

He revealed HEE will be working with trusts and sustainability and transformation partnerships to increase investment in workforce development by 17%, from £77 million to £90 million.

HEE’s workforce strategy is due to publish later this year. A total of 7,500 nursing associates are expected to be in training by the end of 2019.

‘If the workforce strategy is truly going to cross health and social care, there must be equal access to the training and development opportunities that currently are exclusively available to the NHS’

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England

Professor Cumming added: ‘This will have risen to 45,000 by the time the NHS celebrates its 80th anniversary in 10 years’ time.

'17,000 of those associates will go on to qualify as full registered nurses.’

Rising demand

A recent National Audit Office report revealed there are 1.3 million workers in the social care sector, but two million will be needed by 2035 to cope with the rising number of older people.

The same report revealed the vacancy rate for nursing jobs in the care sector has more than doubled to 9% since 2013.

Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, the largest representative body for independent social care services in the UK, agreed with Professor Cumming's speech.

Professor Green said: ‘There has always been a problem of disparity in terms, conditions and training opportunities between NHS and social care, and this leads to staff gravitating from social care to the NHS.

‘If the workforce strategy is truly going to cross health and social care, there must be equal access to the training and development opportunities that currently are exclusively available to the NHS’.

More information

National Audit Office report 


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