Welcome to the nursing family - a brief introduction to new nursing roles

 Sarah Zanoni 26 Oct 2017

It cannot have slipped your notice that a number of new roles are being introduced into nursing. So you might be wondering what they are and how they fit in.

The nursing associate role

The nursing associate role has been designed to fill the gap between HCA and registered nurse in England. There are around 2,000 trainee nurse associates currently across England, including around 300 in the South West, and this number is set to rise over the next few years.

Nurse associates are being trained to deliver care in primary, secondary, community and social care settings and this will include the administration of medications. Importantly, the NMC will regulate this role and consultation is currently underway in relation to this. Once qualified, nursing associates will be accountable to the registered nurse and will become an integral part of the nursing family. I am watching the development of this role in the South West closely; no matter how tempting given the struggle to recruit registrants, it must not be allowed to substitute for the registered nurse as this would be inappropriate for the nursing associate and the patient. 

What is the difference between a nursing associate and an assistant practitioner? 

This is a question that is still being unpicked in many respects. Both require a two year training programme and both will be paid at Agenda for Change band four. As I see it, the main difference is that the nursing associate is trained specifically in nursing while the assistant practitioner role can be a more general health care support role. However, this distinction is still being ironed out and will doubtless be the topic of discussion for some time to come.

The nursing degree apprentice. 

The nursing degree apprentice is another new role in the workforce. The apprenticeship was designed in response to the need to increase student nurse numbers as an alternative route to registration.

Apprentices will remain in paid employment and their employer will release them to study part time with an approved institution. Successful completion of the course gives a degree and the right to apply for registration in the same way as full time university degree student nurses.

It is anticipated that it will take around four years to study the degree and achieve registration through the apprenticeship route. Many current HCAs will find this a very attractive route into nursing as they will continue to receive pay while training, rather than taking out student loans. 

Workforce planning is a very specialised area and currently it feels to me that there is not enough thought being put into it on a national level. The abolition of the nursing bursary has, unsurprisingly, seen a reduction in student nurse numbers in the South West and will only deepen the crisis in nursing numbers. New roles are exciting and are to be welcomed if they open up entry to the profession, but the risk remains that this is short-term gap plugging and not a proper long-term solution. 


Sarah Zanoni

Sarah Zanoni

South West Operational Manager

Sarah Zanoni is the Operational Manager of the RCN South West region. 

Page last updated - 06/04/2020