It’s degree-educated, registered professionals we really need, Mr Hunt
We need more nurses. You knew that already, and so did I, but finally England’s health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has reached the same conclusion. The only danger is that Mr Hunt’s definition of a nurse may differ from yours and mine.
In a speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, he pledged to increase the number of nursing student places by 5,000 a year. So far, so good.
But in the same breath he also promised to treble the number of nursing associates ‘so people already in the NHS can become a registered nurse after a four-year apprenticeship’.
As the Nursing and Midwifery Council pointed out in its response, educational standards for nursing associates have not yet been agreed. Chief executive Jackie Smith added: ‘Those standards will ensure a clear distinction between the graduate registered nurse and the nursing associate.’
All along there has been a suspicion that the government in England would seek to replace the registered nursing workforce with associates, who are cheaper to train and employ.
The challenges faced by nurses have never been greater, with even a degree-level education only being enough to prepare newly qualified members of the profession to reach the starting gate. Many people – including some nurses – hanker for a return to training on the job, but we need nurses fit for the future, not the past.
Of course, there are no minimum qualifications required of health secretaries. Sometimes that shows.