Learn Nursing Opinion

The value of Nursing Associates

Wendy Leighton, Project Manager for the Regulated Professional Workforce at Skills for Care

The registered nursing associate has been a recent addition to the social care workforce, and one which brings many benefits for social care teams and the people they support. Wendy Leighton, Skills for Care’s Project Manager for the Regulated Professional Workforce, discusses the value of this role.

I’m keen to share my own knowledge and personal involvement with the registered nursing associate role because – and I make no apology – I am a big advocate of this addition to the social care workforce.

I’m fortunate to have been deeply involved in the very first pilot cohort of registered nursing associates and was part of the development of the role to its now accepted regulated and registered status. But I do recognise that this is a new role in social and health care, and as such much work is still needed to explain and embed the role within the existing workforce, among the public and to potential aspiring registered nursing associates.

You may be aware, the role was first mentioned in Lord Willis’ ‘Shape of Caring’ review in 2015, with the first trainee nursing associates enrolling to higher education institutions in January 2017, and graduating in 2019. During this first cohort’s training there were many changes along the way, including the government formally asking the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to regulate the role.

The key point made in the Willis review was that a role was needed to ‘bridge the gap’ between care worker and registered nurse. This role does that and will continue to evolve beyond this.

Fundamentally, this is a nursing role, a member of the nursing family, that follows “The Code” (NMC 2018) and is accountable for own practice.  The main difference between a registered nurse and a registered nursing associate is that the nursing associate undertakes a two-year foundation level (Level 5) degree programme covering six NMC platforms, whilst a registered nurse undertakes a three-year (Level 6) degree programme covering seven NMC platforms.

The value of employing a nursing associate will depend very much on the vision and workforce planning of your organisation. There are definite proven benefits – creating a nursing associate role is an opportunity to ‘grow your own’ by forming a career pathway for existing staff from carer through to registered nurse.

There is growing evidence of the positive impact of the role on the quality of care being delivered, particularly in relation to early intervention and prevention. The registered nursing associate is able to monitor and implement care with a holistic education, rather than simply undertake a task.

In our ‘Employers guide to the deployment of registered nursing associates in social care’ (Skills for Care 2021) we’ve worked closely with the sector and key stakeholders and regulators to unpick what this may mean in practical situations, and to discuss some actual applications of the role, and how this is working. We’ve also tried to give pointers and guidance on what should be considered when wanting to  deploy this role successfully – for example ensuring that the ‘scaffolding’ is in place. By that I mean clear governance, overhaul of existing policy and procedures to ensure the role is included in this, and clear communication and escalation plans.

I genuinely believe that implemented well this role has a lot to offer the sector, as well as individuals who may want to work in the sector, but specifically within a regulated professional role.

To finish, I would like to highlight registered nursing associate Emily Burton. Emily was one of the very few individuals from social care who undertook the nursing associate training in the pilot days. What struck me about Emily throughout her training was her tenacity and belief that this nursing associate role would benefit the people she supported in the nursing home that she worked in.

Emily graduated in 2019, which was a very proud moment. After graduation she did what she had said she would and stayed working in the care home. She quickly proved that her new role brought new learning, freed up the registered nurses’ time to take on more complex activity and allowed her to become a role model and leader for the care staff.

It was also my absolute pleasure to attend Stewton House nursing home in July when Deborah Sturdy, Chief Nurse for Adult Social Care, awarded Emily with the Chief Nurse Silver Award – the very first awarded to a nursing associate. This was in recognition of how Emily has improved communication and quality of care at the home, and how she is an advocate and inspiration to the care staff working alongside her.

My hope is that more social care employers will look to how this role can add value, to their current teams, as well as attract new staff, plus bring a positive impact to the people they support and the quality of care delivered. I see this role as a key element of helping us move forward into an integrated care system.





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