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New nursing associate role could ‘transform the workforce’

Nurses and support workers will be supported by a new nursing associate, Health Education England (HEE) has announced following a consultation.

The first 1,000 nursing students will start training for the role at test sites next year, which Ian Cumming, the head of HEE, first suggested last year.

The consultation received over 1,000 responses from individuals and groups including nurses, care assistants, health and social care providers and trade unions. The majority said that the new role would benefit patients across health and social care, provided safety was a priority in the way it was introduced.

Professor Lisa Bayliss Pratt, director of nursing and deputy director of education and quality at HEE, said: “Our consultation has shown that there is a real appetite for this role, which we firmly believe can provide a real benefit to the nursing and care workforce across a range of settings and play a key role in the delivery of patient care with safety at its heart.

“This new role has the potential to transform the nursing and care workforce - making sure the role has a clear entry and progression point will be crucial in its development. 

“The role is neither a panacea for future workforce supply, or a substitute for increasing the supply of graduate registered nurses – and throughout the process we sought to reassure people that patient safety remains paramount and is a determining factor that underlines the role.

“We do need to protect what we value across the nursing and care profession but we also need to collectively agree that we can’t always hold on to what we have done in the past – change is inevitable.  The role will play an important part in the delivery of future healthcare and meet the diverse health needs of people up and down the country.”

Most respondents to the consultation felt that nursing associates would benefit care assistants by allowing career progression, provided there was no overlap between their roles. However, some expressed concern that the new role might undermine registered nurses or give them less time with patients because they would be required to supervise associates.

Respondents also said that nursing associates needed a nationally defined curriculum and principles of practice.

Must get the role right

Donna Kinnair, director of nursing, policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing, said that it’s clear there were widely shared concerns that the nursing associate role could be used a substitute for registered nurses, and “it is positive to see that HEE have acknowledged this worry”.

“It’s vital to have a supporting workforce who have a framework for progression and the ability to develop in their roles if that is what they want to do,” she added.  “The consultation responses make clear that there is a keen interest in getting the nursing associate role right, and the early test sites must be carefully monitored to ensure the new role can be introduced in a way that improves the safety and experience of patients.”

Open up a career for thousands of people

Ben Gummer, parliamentary under-secretary to the Department of Health, said: “This new role will enhance patient care and open up a career in nursing for thousands of people, as well as providing opportunities for existing staff who want to progress to become registered nurses.”

Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who recommended the new nursing associate role in the Shape of Caring Report, said: the he was “hugely encouraged” that after a thorough examination of the new Nursing Associate role the green light to go ahead has been given.

“There is a crucial need to create a seamless nursing and care staffing structure which will enhance patient safety and patient outcomes across both health and care structures. We must now move swiftly to make this role a reality and a success,” he said.

The Public Accounts Committee recently warned that the NHS is facing clinical staff shortages of 5.9%. The Department of Health is also currently consulting on abolishing bursaries for nursing students.

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