An overwhelming majority of voting members at RCN Congress have given their support for protecting ‘nurse’ in law.
The debate about it saw 452 members vote in favour and 60 vote against. Those setting out the argument in favour stressed the term ‘nurse’ can be used by anyone in the UK even if they have no nursing qualifications. It can be used by those who have been removed from the NMC register or who have serious convictions.
Several members referenced cases where the term ‘nurse’ had been misused, leading patients to believe they were being cared for by a qualified nurse when they were not.
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‘The public trust us because we’re committed to keeping them safe and advocating for them when they’re at their most vulnerable,’ said Sally Bassett, Chair of the Nurses in Management and Leadership Forum. ‘This issue unites us all. Without protection, it’s not possible to capture accurate workforce data, there is a risk of dilution of registered nurses, and there is a risk to how the government’s promised 50,000 nurses will be filled. This is a patient safety issue.’
Jessica Davidson, Chair of the Nursing in Justice and Forensic Health Care Forum, referenced cases where unregistered and unqualified people called themselves nurses and performed procedures that put patients at risk. She said: ‘If we do not take responsibility for our identity, that identity will be defined by others.’
However, others questioned whether protecting the title would offer a solution to these concerns, especially when there are legal protections already in place. Evan Keir, Nursing Support Worker member of Council, had reservations. He said: ‘I don’t think it’s in dispute that we need to robustly defend our profession. But as a profession, we don’t use the protections that we already have. We don’t prosecute those that misrepresent themselves as nurses, those laws already exist.’