What is a nursing associate?

A nursing associate is a new professional within the nursing team

The new role is being introduced across health and social care settings in England only. Following the Shape of Caring review in 2015, a gap in care provision was identified between the roles of health care assistants and registered nurses.

The Department of Health created the nursing associate role to be an important role in its own right, and to act as a route for those who want to progress in their careers to become a registered nurse.

Health Education England, which shapes the training and education of healthcare professionals in England, has been developing the new role to fit into the existing workforce.

The role of the NMC

We currently regulate nurses and midwives in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. At the end of 2016 the Secretary of State for Health asked us to regulate nursing associates in England and our Council agreed to this request.

Last year the Department of Health consulted on changes to our legislation that will allow us to regulate nursing associates in England. The intention is that nursing associate regulation will be broadly the same as regulation for nurses and midwives. That means we’ll:

  • maintain a register of those eligible to practise as nursing associates in England
  • set the standards nursing associates must meet to join and remain on the nursing associate part of our register
  • set requirements of education programmes and approve and monitor programmes against those requirements
  • investigate concerns about nursing associates’ conduct or practice and take action if required to protect the public.

Nursing associates in practice

While we’ll develop standards that will set out what nursing associates need to know and be able to do in order to join the nursing associate part of our register, employers will determine how nursing associates are deployed in specific health and care contexts. Nurse leaders in England have been clear that the intention is for nursing associates to support and not substitute for nurses. Having more highly educated and skilled support staff should enable better use to be made of graduate nurse resources.

Joint statement on nursing associates from nurse leaders in England:

"This new role is not a move away from degree educated registered nurses, nor will it replace registered nurses.

"The nursing associate role is designed to bridge the gap between healthcare assistants and registered nurses in England. Nursing associates will deliver care, freeing up registered nurses to spend more time using their skills and knowledge to focus on complex clinical duties and take a lead in decisions on the management of patient care.

"Employers tell us they need a more flexible workforce to keep pace with developments in treatments and interventions. The nursing associate role is designed to provide employers with a wider skill mix within multidisciplinary teams."

Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England

Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, Director of Nursing, Health Education England.

Hilary Garratt, Director of Nursing, NHS England and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England

Ruth May, Executive Director of Nursing, NHS Improvement and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for England

We have created a timeline to mark the key development milestones.