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Advanced nurse practitioners - NMC recognition at last?

Marilyn Eveleigh
Consultant Editor

News is out that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has agreed to establish a new part of the register for advanced nurse practitioners. This is history in the making. This will regulate what is called "advanced practice" for the protection of patients and give an identity to the title.
Is this not good news? It will end a tension within the profession as to what exactly is the role and remit of "advanced" practice and the title "nurse practitioner". It will please those nurses who have extended their scope of practice but had no formal recognition for doing so. It will delight those who have undertaken additional qualifications and training to underpin the skills required. It will be a relief to academic establishments that have pioneered and developed courses to equip a workforce yet had no guidance from the professional body. It will support nurses in planning their career pathway. It will ensure employers use the title appropriately. At last, it will clarify.
Or will it? The consultation process has been detailed and lengthy - and has flagged up differences in perceptions and opinions that will need agreement before the standards are finalised. The most controversial element is the requirement that advanced nurse practitioners have "a Master's degree level of thinking". What does that mean? Do you actually need to have a Master's level degree? Can you have a Master's degree but not in this clinical field? Must your level of thinking be assessed? How? What is the status of a nurse practitioner degree?
The consultation document was not at all clear on the qualification for the advanced nurse practitioner, and the proposal is being redrafted based on responses from individuals, professional bodies, NHS departments and public organisations. This will be discussed at the next NMC council meeting in September 2005.
It is important that we get the definition and criteria of advanced nurse practitioner right. The debate on advanced practice has been going on for years, and many nurses have taken risks and forged their career into this level without clarity on what it means. There will be winners and losers. Watch this space!
Whatever the outcome, the NMC is there to protect patients through professional regulation. If the nursing profession is confused about advanced practice and/or nurse practitioners, how much more confused are others? I don't think this new category of professional nurse on the NMC register will reduce the vast array of nursing titles in use, but it will provide a competency framework that all advanced nurse practitioners should meet, that will protect patients and give status to the profession.
PS - The NiP Event to be held in London on 27-28 September 2005 will include a hot-off-the-press update on the advanced nurse practitioner. The Event is free and promises a full and varied programme for community and primary care nurses. Details can be found on the website or call 020 7214 0500 to get your free invitation.