Nursing associates could fill nurse vacancies in England, leaked document suggests

Text from forthcoming NHS People Plan reveals strategy to recruit 10,000 nursing associates

Text from forthcoming NHS People Plan reveals strategy to recruit 10,000 nursing associates

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Nursing associates could be used to help fill registered nurse vacancies in England, a leaked document suggests.

The document, seen by Health Service Journal (HSJ) and the Independent online news site, is quoted as stating that the recruitment of 10,200 new nursing associates would help reduce ‘growth in demand’ for registered nurses.

Figures released in November by NHS Digital revealed a shortage of 44,000 nurses in England.

History of the nursing associate role

Nursing associates were introduced in England to bridge the skills gap between healthcare assistants and nurses, with the first cohort joining the workforce in January this year following a two-year training programme.

However, the role, which is regulated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, has not been without controversy, with critics concerned about nursing associates’ scope of practice.

HSJ and the Independent say the leaked document is part of the as-yet-unpublished NHS People Plan, which will set out how the health service aims to tackle workforce shortages and retain staff.

The document reportedly states: ‘The introduction of the nursing associate role is designed in part to free up time for registered nurses and enable them to undertake more advanced roles… Expansion in numbers of NAs can therefore help to reduce growth in demand for RNs… Our skill mix assumption is that each nursing associate in the workforce will reduce nursing workforce demand by 0.5 [full-time equivalent].’ This means each NA could allegedly ease half the workload of a full-time nurse.

Recruiting overseas nurses and increasing number of training places 

Other measures to tackle nurse shortages in the document include: 

  • 12,500 nurses recruited from overseas
  • 12,400 existing nurses being encouraged to stay in the NHS
  • 3,030 nursing associates training to become nurses
  • 2,500 additional nurse training places being made available

But the document also reveals that even with overseas recruitment growing by 4% a year for the next five years, the NHS will still have a nursing vacancy rate of 8% by 2024.

Government dismiss document as ‘based on old modelling’

A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement dismissed the leaked document, which is dated October 2019, as being out of date.

‘This story is based on old modelling which categorically does not reflect the current plan for expanding the registered nursing workforce,’ they said.

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