Nursing associates could be used to fill nurse vacancies, leaked NHS document suggests

The recruitment of nursing associates would reduce the “growth in demand” for registered nurses.

Ian Snug
5 December 2019

Health leaders warn that nursing associates are “not a replacement” for registered nurses.

A leaked NHS document seen by both the Health Service Journal and the Independent suggests that nursing associates could be used to help fill registered nurse vacancies in England.


The document, which is reportedly part of the as-yet-unpublished NHS People Plan, is quoted as stating that the recruitment of 10,200 new nursing associates would reduce a “growth in demand” for registered nurses.

Last month, figures from NHS Digital revealed a shortage of 44,000 nurses in England – meaning one in eight posts is currently vacant. 

The new nursing associate (NA) role was developed by Health Education England (HEE) and was designed to “bridge the gap” between healthcare assistants and registered nurses (RN).

In January, the Royal College of Nursing warned that nursing associates are “not a replacement” for registered nurses and should be used to support registered nurses.


Reducing the demand for registered nurses.

The document reportedly states; ‘The introduction of the nursing associate role is designed in part to free up time for registered nurses and enable them to undertake more advanced roles.

“Expansion in numbers of NAs can therefore help to reduce growth in demand for RN.”

“Our skill mix assumption is that each nursing associate in the workforce will reduce nursing workforce demand by 0.5 [full-time equivalent].’ This means each NA could allegedly ease half the workload of a full-time nurse,” it continued.

This suggests each nursing associate could ease the workload of a full-time registered nurse by half.


A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement claims the document, dated October 2019, is “out of date”.

They added the plan “does not reflect the current plan for expanding the registered nursing workforce”.

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