How the new nursing associate role will break new ground

Author: Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers

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As the role of nursing associate grows in number, we need to understand it better. Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, introduces us this new role and how it’s set to complement the NHS Long Term Plan’s workforce strategy.

January was an interesting month for the NHS, with a long-term plan for the future and a new role entering our teams.

The nursing associate role is a regulated part of the workforce which has been developed to bridge the gap between health and care support workers and registered nurses. 

This role is intended to complement registered nurses, enabling them to work to their full scope of practice, as well as offer new routes into registered nursing roles.

Although the role is still gathering pace, it has received significant employer interest since its inception in 2015. The number of trainee nursing associates is increasing, and the government has set a target to see 7,500 trainee nursing associate places this year. 

When considered as part of a forward-thinking workforce strategy, the nursing associate role offers an opportunity for employers to make the most of current and emerging talent as part of our teams.

But we’ve not got here by chance or by accident. The development of this role has required the passion, enthusiasm, and dedication of a cast of thousands across our services, and they deserve to be recognised for this.

  • From the Shape of Caring, from which the seed of this role germinated, to the investment by HEE and DHSC in the fertile soil of the pilot sites. The driving forward of this role has required innovation at all levels of the NHS and the wider healthcare system;
  • From the regulator being bold in its flexibility to make space for this new role within their existing structures, to the innovation shown by national organisations to drive this work forward;
  • There’s also been bold leadership from employers (and their chief nurses in particular) who are changing the conversation to where the role can ‘add the greatest value,’ recognising that nursing associates both contribute to patient safety and patient experience;
  • Then there’s the fantastic energy and innovation from the trainee and newly-qualified nursing associates themselves, challenging all of us to make full use of the broad skills and knowledge this role presents to provide truly joined-up and full-person-centred care;
  • And not to forget the support and encouragement from existing nursing team members who have provided so much help and guidance to their new colleagues, and who have worked together to understand and share the scope of this new role.

As these newly-qualified nursing associates begin to grow in numbers across our services, we need to ensure that the full system actively seeks to understand and make best use of the value this role presents as a part of our teams.

The NHS should be proud. Proud that in the landscape of pressure, challenge and change, we have worked together to produce a new role, the latest to join our wide range of careers. It is a perfect example of our service driving innovation forward to support our services and patients. It also demonstrates that a little directed investment can help deliver our workforce strategy.


This opinion piece was first published in NHE March/April 2019 and then on NHS Voices, the NHS Confederation's blog for NHS leaders.

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