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Study reveals number of nurse posts being filled by non-qualified staff

New research has revealed that 4% of healthcare workers were described as 'nurses' lack the necessary qualifications to use that title.

Researchers from London South Bank University (LSBU) found 595 different specialist job titles in 17,960 roles in the UK which use the word ‘nurse’.

This is ‘not only confusing for the public, medical professionals and commissioners of healthcare services but poses a serious risk patient safety,’ they said.

An NMC spokesperson said: 'The research has prompted a warning from the Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith, who said NHS trusts have a duty not to mislead patients about who was caring for them.'

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, highlighted a ‘lack of consistency’ and said titles ‘appear to have little relationship with other factors like education.’

The study looked into the qualifications of 8,064 workers and discovered ‘a small subset’ without ‘a recordable qualification leading to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).’

This 4% of unregistered workers were using titles such as advanced practitioner, specialist practitioner, advanced nurse practitioner and specialist support nurse, researchers found.

This is despite the International Council of Nurses' recommendations that advanced level nurses who prescribe drugs and manage a caseload should have at least a masters degree level qualification.

Registered nurses whose job titles included 'specialist' or 'advanced' had qualifications ranging from none to Masters and PhDs, the research found.

Overall the most commonly used job titles were clinical nurse specialist, with 6,721 jobs, followed by specialist nurse/nurse specialist (2,334), advanced nurse practitioner (2,214), nurse practitioner (1,977)  and lead nurse (665).

The least common job titles were trainee advanced practice consultant, specialist liaison nurse, trainee consultant practitioner, nurse clinician, specialist support sister and locality nurse.

The report’s co-author, LSBU professor and chair of healthcare and workforce modelling, Alison Leary said: ‘Advanced nursing practice needs regulation to help protect the public.

‘Lack of consistency has implications for the wider perception of advanced specialist practice in the worldwide community and the workforce more generally.’

‘In some instances, there is evidence that these post holders are being expected to treat members of the public and are missing diagnoses altogether, which could lead to patients becoming seriously ill or worse.’

She said the lack of a common framework across the UK was an issue with employers and post holders driving the ‘labelling of posts’.

‘Previous assumptions by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence that advanced practice labels are associated with career progression are unsound and should be addressed by the regulator,’ Professor Leary added.