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Failing to protect the title ‘nurse’ puts patients and nurses at risk

In the UK, anyone can call themselves a nurse. Although the title of ‘registered nurse’ is protected under UK law, the title ‘nurse’ is not. And I, along with many others, think that’s a problem.

It’s a problem because we rarely go about our working lives proclaiming that we are ‘registered nurses’. Instead, we, and those we care for and work with, use ‘nurse’ as an accepted contraction of the full title. It is ‘nurse’ that is in common usage, ‘nurse’ that the public use to attract our attention or describe us, and ‘nurse’ that is the shorthand for a safe, competent, accountable, and professional practitioner of nursing. If you say you’re a ‘nurse’, most people will assume you have the required education and validations to be a registered nurse – with all the trust and safety assumptions that go with that.

We know there are people in roles with ‘nurse’ in their job title who aren’t nurses at all. They may be a support worker or an associate or other helper role – all valuable roles within their own scope. They may have some specialist education, but they may have none. They are not registered nurses, yet their job title leads the public to believe they are.

In addition, we know there are people who set out to deceive by calling themselves ‘nurse’ – like the parliamentary candidate who referred to himself as a ‘nurse’ in his campaigning, but was forced to admit that he wasn’t actually a nurse, but a healthcare assistant. I suppose he thought calling himself a nurse would help him win votes. And he could do so, with impunity. We also know that there are people who have been struck off the NMC register who continue to call themselves a nurse, again with impunity. These are recent examples of the nurse title being used by unregistered individuals to spread misinformation and to profit from public trust. This harms the reputation of all nurses as skilled, knowledgeable and honest practitioners.

In summary, we have a situation that allows for deceit and misrepresentation, and that situation is unfair to patients, is potentially dangerous, and undermines transparency and trust in the registered nurse/patient relationship.

Professor Alison Leary is petitioning the Government to legally protect the title ‘nurse’ so that it may be used only by registered nurses. You can follow the campaign on Twitter on #ProtectNurse and #PatientSafety. You can find the petition here; it takes just two minutes to sign. I have signed it, and I hope you will too. You don’t have to be a nurse to sign it: it’s an issue for anyone who may come into contact with healthcare services now or in the future, and who believes in safety and transparency. Do sign it if you think this is important too, and do share it via your own social media sites.

A version of this blog was originally published by Professor June Girvin on her website.