Government plans to introduce a new role of nursing associate must provide genuine opportunities to enhance the role of health care assistants (HCAs) but will not solve the fundamental problem of nursing shortages, says UNISON.
The union has campaigned for better training and qualifications for HCAs and for better development of the existing higher level role of assistant practitioner but says that if the government wants to ensure that registered nurses are supported by highly skilled support staff it must fund further training for existing HCAs.
The union is also warning that this must not be a diversion from the pressing need to increase the supply of nurses to meet patient needs, both now and in the future.
UNISON head of health Christina McAnea said: “We already have health care assistants, assistant practitioners and registered nurses on wards and in the community. There is real scope for further patient confusion with the introduction of a new role.
“The government must look at the nursing family as a whole and ensure there is a consistent structure to improve the training and prospects of health care assistants and assistant practitioners, including those who want to progress all the way to qualify as registered nurses.
“There is no quick fix to plug the gaping shortages of registered nurses which have been made worse as a result of the cap on agency spending, and the clampdown on nurses from overseas.
“UNISON wants to ensure that the thousands of health care assistants who look after patients day in and day out get the training and opportunities they deserve. Only then will their skills be properly rewarded and valued. That will require investment, a system of regulation and safeguards to stop them being used as a cheap substitute for nurses.”
The union is also critcial of the short six-week consultation period suggesting it is inadequate for nurses, healthcare support workers and their unions to do justice to the complex issues in the consultation.