Although I have been a nurse for decades, I was surprised to learn that the title ‘nurse’ can be used by anyone in the UK. Unlike the title ‘doctor’, it is not protected in law. Our legal protected title is ‘registered nurse’. Yet, I’m never referred to as ‘registered nurse’ in my daily work. Nurse is the title I recognise and respond to, and the one I use to describe myself. Simply: nurse. Society expects those using the title to be qualified professionals.
One hundred years ago, nursing became a registered profession with a set of qualifications that underpins our identity and safeguards the public. Six months ago, a petition to Parliament calling for the title nurse to be protected in UK law was launched and at the time of writing, it had garnered more than 32,000 signatures. Yet this week, MPs voted 304 to 240 against an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill to protect the nurse title in UK law.
The result of the vote was disappointing, but it is not our last chance. We must now put our all behind the petition, which closes on 14 December 2021 [now closed] and I strongly encourage you to read it and give your view. Forward it to friends and family, as this is even more relevant for the public. Most importantly, do it fast; the fight is not over but time is running out to ensure the campaign reaches the 100,000 it needs to be debated in Parliament.
After all, the public consistently regards nursing as the most trusted of professions. But there are individuals and organisations where the title is used when people involved are not qualified nurses. The elected MP for Blyth Valley is a healthcare assistant, but his election material described him as a nurse. Others have misled the public and tarnished the reputation of the profession by using the title nurse for profit and deception. Recently, a high-profile anti-vaxxer was removed from the NMC register for bringing the profession into disrepute by spreading disinformation; yet this person continues to use the title nurse with impunity since it is not protected.
There is also an increasing number of caregivers who use ‘nurse’ in their job title despite not being qualified nurses. While caregivers provide an essential nursing support role, their use of the title is deceptive and potentially unsafe.
The uncontrolled use of the title has implications for the profession. I’m somewhat indignant that anyone can call themselves a nurse. It undermines the long training and qualification that underpins the award of [registered] nurse and discredits the importance of being on a regulated professional register. It flies in the face of how patients and the public define us. It affronts qualified nurses with outstanding student loans.
From a straw poll, it appears many nurses are unaware the nurse title is not protected in UK law. Their concern reflects mine, in terms of our reputation and of public perceptions and safety. In visiting health and social care providers, I sometimes struggle to identify who is a [registered] nurse among the plethora of roles, titles and uniforms in use. I suspect it is even more difficult and frustrating for the public to navigate.