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Nursing associates – everything you need to know

What is a nursing associate?

The nursing associate is a new health care role the Department of Health has introduced in England. The role is designed to bridge the gap between health care assistants (HCAs) and registered nurses.

Why has this new role been created?

Health Education England (HEE) says the creation of an additional nursing support role will have several benefits. These include providing a route into nursing and a career ladder for the health care support workforce; enhancing the quality of hands-on care offered by the support workforce through defined and funded training and development, and strengthening the support available to nursing staff, releasing them to focus on care planning and management, advancing their practice and using their high level skills.

When will nursing associates be in place and how will they train?

1,000 trainee nursing associates began their training this month, across 11 test sites, and a further 1,000 will follow later this year. They will also attend universities and further education colleges on a part-time basis, following a national curriculum framework. Training will run over a two-year period, and at the end of this, trainees will become qualified nursing associates.

What will nursing associates be able to do?

Deliver care in a range of primary, secondary, community and social care settings. Their training will provide them with technical knowledge and practical experience, HEE says. Health Service Journal reported that nursing associates would be able to administer medicines without supervision. The RCN expressed concerns about this, and HEE has said nursing associates will only administer medicines “if suitably trained and competent, in settings where it is deemed appropriate and where this is guided by organisational medicines management policies”.

Will nursing associates be regulated?

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) should regulate nursing associates, as it does registered nurses. The NMC is due to meet to discuss this on 25 January.

What about assistant practitioners?

The trainee nursing associate role is different to the role of assistant practitioner (AP) although their work will be similar once the trainees have completed their two year training. APs are currently not regulated although the RCN is supportive of mandatory regulation for all support staff. We will be monitoring the test sites closely to see how the new role works alongside current support roles.

Who will nursing associates be accountable to?
During training, the curriculum makes it clear that role development and allocation of work must always take place under the right level of supervision, however we are concerned about capacity within the system to do this. Registered nurse mentors already mentor nursing students. 

Once qualified, nursing associates will be accountable to registered nurses. Registered nurses will always be accountable for any decisions they make around delegation of any tasks, but nursing associates will have to take responsibility for the actions they take. See information on accountability and delegation.

What does the RCN say?

The RCN supports the idea of a structure that enables health care support staff to become registered nurses, should they wish. But we have also warned the new role must not be used as a substitute for registered nurses. We have also raised concerns about the speed with which the plans have been implemented. The RCN will be monitoring these test sites closely and will be part of the evaluation being run by HEE.

Will nursing associates be able to join the RCN?

Yes. They will be able to join under the health practitioner category of membership – for more information visit 

How can I become a nursing associate?

The first 1,000 trainee nursing associate roles have been appointed but a further 1,000 roles will start training later this year. More information can be found on the HEE website. The new roles will be advertised on NHS jobs.

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Conferences of interest:

Developing the role of the Nursing Associate
Friday 9 June 
De Vere West One Conference Centre


19 January 2017


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