The UK’s healthcare landscape has altered dramatically since the NHS was first formed in 1948. The duties of both doctors and nurses were clearly defined with very little overlap between the roles. However, much like the advancement of so many aspects of modern medicine, the lines that were once so glaringly obvious are now blurred beyond recognition thanks to the rise of advanced nurse practitioners.
Advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs) are far from a recent phenomenon, but in the medical world, their rise has been meteoric. In fact, the role’s increase in popularity is so great that it has taken NHS employers by surprise as more and more nurses opt to pursue the ANP route. So why has this nursing pathway become so popular?
The Introduction of ANPs
First trialled in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was the newly formed role of nurse practitioner that gave nurses the opportunity to develop their skills in primary care-based settings, such as general practices. Deemed a success, the first Nursing Practitioner training course was rolled out at the Royal College of Nursing in 1992, from which 15 students blazed the way for nurse practitioners across the country.
The role was officially defined in 1996 by the RCN Council, who revealed the appropriate level of educational preparation necessary for the position. This was expanded upon in 2002 when the RCN produced official guidance on the role, detailing both the value and support required for the educational development of nurse practitioners.
Over time, the position evolved and soon became a far more specialised role, requiring students to demonstrate an advanced level of nursing expertise. This soon resulted in the ‘advanced nurse practitioner’ position being created.
Today, student nurses hoping to achieve advanced nurse practitioner status are advised to undertake a specific course of study in order to reach at least honours degree level. This should build upon already-acquired nursing skills and include the study of, amongst other aspects, leadership and teaching skills, management of patient care, therapeutic nursing care and advanced pharmacology.
The Rise of ANPs
The rise of the ANP position should come as little surprise. With every passing year, the number of people in the UK continues to grow. Since the NHS was first established over 70 years ago, the nation’s population has increased by over a quarter and is now in excess of 66 million. The country’s healthcare system has had to grow, too, with each individual requiring healthcare at some point in their life. An increase in demand should lead to greater availability of healthcare; a simple equation.
Sadly, that has not been the case. There is a growing shortage of GPs in the UK at a time members of the public require greater levels of care. However, where GP numbers have decreased, ANPs have been allowed to blossom, picking up the strain that the current crop of GPs has struggled to manage. This boom has significantly benefitted primary care, with patients able to rely on advice from a healthcare professional in their time of need.
ANPs are considered to be hard-working and resilient due to the commitment and effort it takes to train. That’s why demand is growing, with more and more ANPs being introduced into different environments throughout the medical landscape. What’s more, as the margins are so slender between the skills possessed by doctors and advanced nurse practitioners, medically, there is little an ANP cannot do.
Despite this rise in popularity deterring some from taking up registered general nursing roles, NHS bosses have not discouraged more nurses from developing their skills and advancing in the profession, with the ultimate goal being to take on more senior duties. It is hoped that these ANPs will be capable of handing the baton on seamlessly to the next generation of nurses.
Roles and Responsibilities
The role of an advanced nurse practitioner is described by the RCN as ‘a registered nurse who has undertaken a specific course of study of at least first degree (Honours) level.’ It is also a profession that covers multiple bases.
Due to the complex nature of the role, ANPs, who possess many of the same skills as a junior doctor, are expected to command a wide variety of skills and competencies. From performing comprehensive and sophisticated physical or mental health assessments to prescribing and managing a multitude of medicines, no two days are ever the same.
Many ANPs are self-governing and therefore able to make professionally autonomous decisions, for which they are held accountable. This grants them the power to admit and discharge patients from their caseload, screen patients, devise care plans and deliver diagnosis using decision-making and problem-solving skills.
Other ANP responsibilities include being able to assess patients, provide treatment and care both individually, as part of a team, and through referral to other agencies and deliver counselling and health education. These tasks must be carried out while demonstrating calmness and exceptional leadership qualities as part of a multi-disciplined team or working individually.
Find Out More
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