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Professor Jane Cummings, the Chief Nursing Officer for England, sets the record straight on the future of nursing

Nursing and midwifery have changed dramatically since the days of Florence Nightingale and I am proud of what we as professions have achieved and continue to achieve.

Today there are more than half a million registered nurses and midwives in England with 50,000 working out of hospital in care homes and the care sector. Alongside them are more than a million care assistants providing support to our most vulnerable.

The number of nurses and midwives continues to rise, but so does the need – we are living longer and that means many of us are living with long term conditions and for many this means more years with complex and serious illness.

The challenge for modern nursing and midwifery is to provide our patients and the people we support with competent, compassionate care that spans working with those we care for, carers and their families to promote physical and mental health and well-being, assess, diagnose and treat complex needs and have a workforce  better able to meet the growing demand on our services and expertise. We need new ways to meet the changing needs of the people we care for.

Equally, we also want to ensure that a career in nursing and midwifery remains attractive and appealing to our existing staff and prospective new recruits.

This year sees the introduction of a new role, the Nursing Associate, an important new addition to our team. Midwifery support workers have been in place for some time as have Associate Practitioners.

A Nursing Associate is not a registered nurse and will not replace them, but they will instead have the training and skills to bridge the gap between what a health care assistant can do and what a registered nurse is now needed to do.

Critics have suggested that this is a cheap replacement for nurses – this is not and must not be the case. This is an opportunity for thousands of talented people to gain the first step on the ladder not just to a job, but to a rewarding lifelong career.

For nurses, they will have additional support and more time freed up to perform the role they are trained to do, assessing, treating and caring for more complex patients.

For healthcare assistants and those who want a career in nursing it provides a new route to achieve this, giving them more skills and competencies with a structured education programme and the potential to go further and become a graduate nurse.

For those we care for this means that they will continue to receive the safe, high quality, compassionate care they deserve.

In practice it will mean that staffing will reflect patient need so in an emergency department or service with lots of patients who need intensive clinical care, there will be more registered nurses.

But in an area where less complex care is needed, there may be more Nursing Associates, freeing up registered nurses to be where they are needed most.

Nursing and midwifery are immensely rewarding vocations with an opportunity to undertake a huge variety of roles and I’m proud that an NHS nurse has a special place in the hearts of the British people. I believe this change will see many people have the chance to progress and for us to collectively lead the way in developing a workforce fit for the future.

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