Editorial

If nursing associates are here to stay, get involved

Like the idea or not – and professional opinion appears to be divided – nursing associates are coming. It was announced last week that about 1,000 students will be enrolled on courses next year, before starting work at a selection of test sites that are yet to be identified.

Like the idea or not – and professional opinion appears to be divided – nursing associates are coming. It was announced last week that about 1,000 students will be enrolled on courses next year, before starting work at a selection of test sites that are yet to be identified.

The staff undertaking this new role will work alongside registered nurses and healthcare assistants, delivering hands-on care and – in the words of Health Education England (HEE) – focusing on ensuring patients continue to get the compassionate care they deserve.

Nursing associates’ scope of practice will be defined at a series of five workshops planned for next month. What we know already is that HEE says it wants to create a new type of care worker with a higher skillset to assist, support and complement the care given by registered nurses.

There are well-founded concerns that registered nurse numbers will be cut

Whether the new role will transform the nursing and care workforce, as HEE and the government hope, remains to be seen. Ever since the UK stopped training enrolled nurses more than 20 years ago, some have rued their demise. Most countries have what we used to call a ‘second-level nurse’, not educated to the same level as a registered nurse but suitably prepared to perform parts of the role.

Detractors of the nursing associates idea will argue that this is a crude attempt to get nursing on the cheap. There are well-founded concerns that the number of registered nurses will be cut once the new workforce comes on stream, harming patient outcomes and experience.

By contrast, proponents of nursing associates see this as an opportunity to bolster the healthcare support workforce by strengthening such roles, offering a clearer career pathway and boosting patient safety, especially if the postholders are regulated robustly.

Whichever side of the fence you are on, the next few months offer everyone the opportunity to help shape the role so that the first cadre of nursing associates can deliver HEE’s vision.

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