The NHS is considering creating a new type of health professional to help nurses cope with their growing workloads, the head of the body that oversees recruitment and staff training has revealed.
Ian Cumming, the chief executive of Health Education England (HEE), said the new staff would do some of the tasks currently done by fully qualified nurses and could become known as “nurse associates”.
They are needed to help overcome the NHS’s chronic shortage of nurses and hospitals deal with growing demand, he said in an interview with the Guardian.
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“They would nurse patients. They would care for patients under the supervision of registered nurses. So they would have an expanded skill set compared to the healthcare support worker on the ward, but they wouldn’t be a registered nurse,” said Cumming.
“The NHS is telling us that they want and need something in the middle, something between a healthcare support worker and a registered nurse.” The new staff could start looking after patients after 18-24 months’ training, less than the three years needed to get a nursing degree.
However, unions representing the NHS’s 400,000 nurses responded cautiously to the idea, which emerged during a recent consultation run by HEE, which spends £5bn a year ensuring that the NHS has the workforce it needs.
Peter Carter, the chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the proposal was interesting. But he added: “There’s overwhelming evidence that patients have better outcomes when they are cared for by graduate nurses, and any proposals must avoid diluting the skill mix of staff, which would have an impact on patient care.”
Christina McAnea, head of health at Unison, said: “The NHS should build on the skills and commitment of its healthcare assistants and assistant practitioners, and invest more in these staff, who already deliver 60% of patient care.
“While we welcome enhanced training and development opportunities, roles with greater responsibilities will require higher pay levels. More also needs to be done to support healthcare assistants who want to qualify as nurses,” she added.