Being a registered or associate nurse is no small feat. The time, physical and emotional effort that is put in from the beginning is taxing, but it is all for a cause much larger than one’s self.
From healthcare support workers to registered nurses and at every stage in between, every member of the UK’s nursing community has a vital role to play in the health service. This is why the recent announcement from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – which warned that the lack of clarity around the roles of nursing associates could jeopardise patient care – appears ill-advised.
The announcement saw Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, state that “to ensure safe and effective patient care, nursing associate training must be consistent across England, and nursing associates must have supernumerary status while they train.”
The health service is crying out for Nursing Associates.
However, from my experience in working with nursing associates as course leader for the apprenticeship programme that is being delivered in partnership with the University of Central Lancashire, the opposite couldn’t be clearer. In fact, the role isn’t just clearly defined – it is one that the health service has been crying out for, for a number of years.
While it is important to emphasise that nursing associates should not replace registered nurses, there’s no arguing with the figures that highlight a nationwide staffing issue, with low uptake in student nurse training and reduced recruitment numbers. What appears to be missed in this warning from the RCN is that associate nurses could help to remedy this problem even further. However, this can’t be done when formal and public announcements degrade the competency of associate nurses.
When you dissect the impact that associate nurses have had on the care of patients, it is more likely to be a positive than a negative one, with quality of care likely to increase. For many patients, nursing associates are more than just a helping hand. As one nursing associate eloquently put it: “We are the eyes for those that can’t see. We are the ears for those that can’t hear and don’t understand what other health professionals have said. We are the memory for those who can’t remember what’s going on, and we are always the ones to celebrate with them when they get good news. We are the ones to hold their hands through difficult times.
“Our kindness and compassion does not just spread to patients and relatives, it goes to other staff too, who we are there to help and support and to make sure that no one is struggling.”
Nursing associates give hope to the NHS.
There’s no doubt about the positive effect trainee nursing associates can have – from sitting with patients to spending time caring and comforting people. The role is wholly valued across the healthcare sector, and their presence often gives hope to the most downtrodden of patients, and more importantly, hope to the NHS.
Making the role of nursing associates supernumerary would strip all of this away. As well as this, the training and skills development of nursing associates would be hampered, and more stress and an increased workload would be placed onto an already overworked qualified nurse. As it stands, the role of nursing associates is perfectly placed to allow them to develop new skills in a safe environment, while being assessed by qualified staff.
As well as this, nursing associates play a crucial role in improving patient care. Having nursing associates working on a busy unit alongside a qualified nurse can only enhance quality of care, and helps nurses feel more valued and help their workload as teamwork improves.
The introduction of nursing associates is real step forward terms of education and training. They are provided with real life skills and experience, giving caring individuals the chance to make a difference, to help foster change, and to deliver a high quality of care, with patients commenting on their professionalism and compassion.
Nursing associates play an important role within our healthcare service and have made a positive impact in a short time. With nursing associates in place, there is hope and a bright future for our NHS.
‘Student nurses graduate with £54k of debt, shouldn’t we pay them a wage instead?’
The Government claims students are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care”.
Student nurses are the unseen workforce and vital to patient care.
While I am pleased for the thousands of students who will soon be starting their journey to become a registered nurse, it comes with a stark reminder.
In November 2015, ministers announced the NHS Student Bursary and tuition fee payment would be cut in a plan to increase the number of available student places.
Suffice to say, this hasn’t worked.
Instead, we have seen a consistent decline in the number of student nurses qualifying. Official figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show an overall decline in applications of 8% since 2015.
There is no debate that nurses need to be degree-level educated – but are student loans the best way to fill an ever-widing gap in our workforce?
The unseen workforce.
Student nurses are the unseen workforce and are sometimes vital to the delivery of safe, compassionate, person-centered care.
Completing over two-thousand hours of hand-on, direct clinical practice over three years – is it fair to ask them to accumulate up to £54,582 (plus 6.3% annual interest) of debt?
With a starting salary of £24,214, this is a debt the majority of nurses will never pay off.
The Government claims that because student nurses are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care” they need to be treated like all other higher education students.
While is it true that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) mandates that student nurses are considered ‘supernumerary’ – how realistic is this expectation? We hear stories of student nurses, trainee nursing associates and healthcare support workers being used to fill nurse staffing gaps on an almost daily basis.
A self-perpetuating cycle.
With an estimated 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS alone, health and social care services in England are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.
Chronic under-investment in services has led to an increased demand on staff and subsequently affected recruitment and retention rates. Universities then fail to recruit enough nurses to meet the current demand and so the cycle continues.
The Royal College of Nursing has called on the Government to invest at least £1b per year into nursing education and come up with a long-term plan after its plan to increase numbers has failed to work.
Matching the proposed apprentice wage while student nurses are on placement would go some way towards alleviating the financial burden the government has placed on student nurses.
A fresh start?
I’m excited and I’m nervous. I qualified as a nurse just 15 months ago. I left a career in IT of “quite a few years” – I decided I needed a fresh start.
Now I’m sat on a train heading to my first ever RCN Congress. I’m a voting delegate and will be honoured to carry that responsibility for my branch.
I’m also excited to finally be meeting people that I’ve solely (or mostly) only ever connected with online.
Finally, I’m looking forward to the various debates and resolutions. Listening to the speakers will further inform my views and I might even share a thought or two myself – fortunately speaking in public does not generally worry me (I’ll be the one with the ukulele).
A brief glance back to this time last year when certain “irregularities” were noticed by some members around the pay deal and communications regarding it.
The train of events that followed uncovered a number of poor practices regarding transparency and accountability and our current council were elected to address these.
I also mentioned I am nervous.
Recently, it has become clear that further “irregularities” have occurred – and questions will be asked.
Tomorrow morning is the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual General Meeting – an opportunity for members to ask questions. An opportunity for the council to demonstrate its commitment to openness, transparency, and accountability. An opportunity for a fresh start.
I genuinely hope the answers to the questions I raise are clear and dispel the concerns many of us have.
And if they don’t? Well, that’s why I’m nervous.
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