At the end of last year, the government announced plans to create a new nursing support role. Those working as a provisionally titled ‘’nursing associate” will deliver hands-on care, working alongside healthcare support workers and fully qualified nurses.
If the idea of an apprenticeship in nursing appeals to you, here’s what you need to know.
What career opportunities does it offer?
The role of nursing associate will offer a direct route into nursing for those who prefer not to go to university, and will bridge the gap between senior healthcare assistants who hold a care certificate and registered, graduate nurses.
Learning will be on-the-job and will lead to a foundation degree. On completion, nursing associates can then go on to become a registered nurse either by completing a degree-level nursing apprenticeship or by taking a shortened nursing degree at university.
The proposal, which has been met with a “cautious welcome” by many in the industry, is seen as particularly good news for healthcare assistants.
Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, commented:
‘Health and care assistants are a really important part of the team’ and added that they should be given an opportunity to develop new skills and follow a tangible career path.’
Janet Davies, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN, also welcomed the ‘recognition of the value of healthcare assistants,’ adding that the initiative would give those in unregulated positions access to training via a clear structure, as well as offering a route into the profession to those who would otherwise have been denied the opportunity.
However, Unison warned that not all HCAs want to go on to be nurses, and that the new roles must not be a “cheap” way of replacing fully-trained nurses.
Christina McAnea, head of health, said:
‘We know it can be a struggle for healthcare assistants to gain access to any training so many will see this as an opportunity. But not all HCAs want to go on to become nurses, so it’s important that new roles do not undermine those who wish to stay in their current job.
‘And we need to ensure these new roles are not used as a cheap way to replace registered nurses.’
How many will there be?
The government expects to train around 1,000 nursing associates to begin with this year, though individual NHS organisations will be responsible for deciding how many they need.
Government officials are keen to point out that the number of nursing associates will be in addition to planned nursing numbers, not replacements for them. The creation of the new role should not affect the number of university nursing placements in any way.
What does the role of nursing associate involve?
The idea is that trained nursing associates will deliver hands-on care, freeing up time for existing nurses so they can use their specialist training to focus on clinical duties and take more of a lead in decisions around patient care.
While they will take on some of their functions, nursing associates will “assist” registered graduate nurses, who remain ultimately responsible for patients.
Janet Davies explains:
‘A registered nurse is a clinical decision-maker with degree-level knowledge and skills, considerable experience of caring for people with multiple or complex conditions, plus the ability to supervise and educate more junior staff.’
Dame Eileen Sills, chief nurse at Guys’ and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust, told the Nursing Times that the role must be ‘broad enough to add value to the nursing team,’ but would also need to be regulated.
What happens next?
At the start of the year, the government entered a period of consultation with key representatives from the nursing industry, including the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the Royal College of Nursing.
Janet Davies of the RCN says: ‘We will be responding in full to the consultation to ensure that this new role is fully funded, without detracting from the wider workforce, and above all is an asset to care and to patients.’
The role will need to be fully tested and developed, and is likely to be introduced at a number of pilot sites before being rolled out nationally.
Update 6 June 2016
To find out more about it, consult one of the following information resources:
- Uk gov website: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/nursing-associate-role-offers-new-route-into-nursing
- UK Dept of Health email updates: https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/UKDH/subscriber/new?topic_id=UKDH_45
- RCN Foundation: http://www.rcnfoundation.org.uk/
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