Welcoming nursing associates into the RCN family

Dame Donna Kinnair 11 Feb 2019 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Dame Professor Donna Kinnair reflects on nursing associates joining the NMC register.

Nursing Associate
Last week I was invited to an event at the House of Commons to celebrate nursing associates joining the NMC register.
It was great to hear directly from two newly qualified nursing associates (NAs) who talked us through their journey from application stage through to qualifying.
Interestingly, they had both started their careers in health care later in life after gaining valuable life experience in other roles. One NA had come into health care after having a family and another after a career in the armed forces.
The flexibility and choice that nursing offers as a career is something we know has long attracted mature students into the profession.
I’m really pleased that such people have decided to take on careers in this valuable support role and the College is committed to supporting not only their integration into the workplace, but also their professional development.
Health Education England estimates that 40% of NAs will go on to study to become registered nurses. And, indeed, one of the NAs speaking at the event told us he had already secured a place at university to study nursing, which is fantastic news.
While I’m pleased that some nursing associates are already planning to develop their careers further by studying a nursing degree, the Government should be under no illusion that this will plug the 40,000 gap in the registered nurse workforce in England
The RCN has always been clear that the quickest and most cost effective way to grow the registered nurse workforce is through increasing the number of undergraduate nursing students in higher education.
Sadly, the number of people applying to university courses in England has fallen sharply since the bursary was axed in 2016 and the number of mature students wanting to be nurses has declined too.
The fact NAs are now regulated by the NMC is a positive step. We’ve long called for all health care support workers to be consistently educated, registered and regulated.
The NMC’s commitment to evaluate the impact of NAs is a good thing too, and the RCN is going to support with this through our research partnership with the University of Sheffield.
But, three and a half years after it was first announced, the NA role is still not clearly defined by the NMC – including the scope of the role to make sure nursing associates are not substitutes for registered nurses, working beyond their registration and potentially impacting on patient safety.
We already have skilled Assistant Practitioners (APs) in the support workforce, and the NMC need to think more widely about how they regulate, clarify and standardise support roles in future.
I look forward to meeting more NAs as they enter the nursing workforce and I hope that many will choose to join the RCN – we’re here for you as you take the first steps in an exciting new career.

Further reading

Nursing Associates: new year, new role

Dame Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Chief Executive & General Secretary

Prior to her appointment as Acting Chief Executive & General Secretary, Dame Donna was Director of Nursing, Policy and Practice and worked with UK-wide RCN staff to drive and implement RCN professional nursing, policy and practice strategy.

Before joining the RCN, Donna held various roles, including Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust.
Donna advised the PM’s Commission on the future of Nursing and Midwifery in 2010 and served as nurse/child health assessor to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry.

Page last updated - 11/12/2020