The Government has said it will ‘consider in detail’ whether to protect the title of ‘nurse’ in UK law amid concerns about misuse.
The pledge comes in response to a petition, which has reached more than 20,000 signatures, calling for the ‘nurse’ title to be protected in UK law. Currently, ‘registered nurse’ and ‘nursing associate’ are protected titles – but ‘nurse’ is not, so anyone can legally call themselves a nurse.
In response to the petition, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was aware of ‘the concerns which this generates’. But it warned there were ‘complications associated with protecting the nurse title’ as it is used in multiple professions, such as registered nursing and dental nursing.
The DHSC, the NMC and England’s chief nursing officer office are looking into the issue of protected titles as part of the ongoing review into professional regulation, it added.
As part of this review, they ‘will consider in detail’ whether the protection of titles ‘relating to registered nurses, midwives and nursing associates are the right ones when bringing forward reform of the NMC’s legal framework, following our consultation on the reform of all healthcare professional regulation.’
The ‘protection of a professional titles is important for public protection’ and ‘provides assurance to the public that someone using that title is competent and safe to practise’, it also acknowledged.
Professor Alison Leary, the workforce academic who launched the petition, previously told Nursing in Practice that research she worked on in 2017 revealed the ‘nurse’ title is ‘used by many different groups who are not on nursing registers’.
Professor Leary said in the petition: ‘The term nurse can be used by anyone in the UK. They can use this term to offer professional advice and services even if they have no nursing qualifications, experience or have been struck off a professional register.
‘To protect the public, the title nurse should be limited to those who are registered with professional regulators, such as registered nurses and dental nurses.’
The petition needs 100,000 signatures for it to be considered for a debate in parliament.
NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said: ‘Under our current legislation, our powers are limited, both in terms of the titles we protect and the action we can take.’
But she added that the NMC wants to work with the Government and other stakeholders ‘to ensure we have the right protected titles and enforcement powers so we can take effective action to protect the public and maintain confidence in the professions’.
A consultation on reforming the regulation of healthcare professionals also closed last month, although the feedback has yet not been published.