Advanced nursing practice is not a new concept. Indeed, specialist nursing roles, from which advanced nursing practice has evolved, have been around since as early as the 1920’s. The advent of World War 2 dramatically enhanced the specialist nurse role through the significant development of new skills which were required to meet the huge and urgent demand in hospitals and infirmaries throughout the world. The clinical nurse specialist (CNS) role was underpinned by academic qualifications as early as 1954 and over the following decades, these nurses were fully embraced as experts in their fields. This academic foundation represented a momentous shift in the educational vision for nurses towards university-based knowledge development with expertise achieving the application of this knowledge in practice.
With CNS roles being conceptualised as fundamental to in-patient care quality, the nurse practitioner role was developed to replicate this degree of specialism in primary and community care. During the 1990’s, universities within the UK began to affiliate nurse practitioner courses with graduates predominantly practising in GP practises to address the targets around 24 hour access to healthcare professionals and 48 hour access to a GP. These nurse practitioners were trained to assess minor injuries & illnesses which freed GPs up to review and manage patients with more complex needs.
During the 1970’s, very specialised nursing roles emerged in areas such as pain management and colorectal surgery and less than 20 years later, academic institutions were making BSc Nurse Practitioner qualifications widely available with paediatric, primary care or hospital based routes all an option for graduation. This was further enhanced by the advent of the Hospital at Night (H@N) concept, piloted early in the 21st century and rolled out across the UK by 2006.
Here in NHSD&G, we have had nurse practitioners achieving significant levels of specialist nursing in GP surgeries for 2 decades and in the Acute and diagnostics Directorate, the H@N concept was introduced in 2006 with an initial team of 6 advanced nurse practitioners (ANPs). These nurses hit the ground running with assessing unwell & deteriorating adult in-patients overnight and gradual recruitment has enabled development into a weekend daytime role. The manifestations of this role evolution is evidenced by increased continuity and quality of in-patient care, decreased residual clinical tasks and reduced numbers of un-planned critical care admissions by promoting the early recognition and management of deteriorating patients. Furthermore, a presence has been fully established within the medical admission unit and an ambulatory care pathway has been formulated which is delivering on its commitment to reduce medical emergency admissions.
Within the Emergency Department, ANPs have been managing a case load of stream 1 (minors) presentations since 2005 when 2 existing members of staff commenced their ANP course & carved out this new role. This team gradually increased to 3 ANPs once the benefit on improved ED flow was realised. In recent years, the ANP presence in ED, has developed to include presentations in stream 2 (majors) and stream 3 (resuscitation) and this has contributed significantly to achievements in ED HEAT targets whilst also maximising ED patient care.
The Galloway Community Hospital also now has an ANP presence with a crucial role to play in the acute “Garrick” ward in addition to supporting the patients within the “Dalrymple” rehabilitation ward. In addition, advanced practitioners are now clinically active in the neonatal, obstetrics, gynaecology and paediatric specialities within NHSD&G and a number of GP practices around the region benefit from ANPs working alongside their GP, practice nurse, CNS, district nurse & health visiting colleagues. Indeed, a new and exciting venture comes to us in the form of advanced allied health practitioners which is currently in the recruitment process and this opens yet another door to the advanced practice house.
However, fundamental to all of these roles, is the definition of advanced practice and the demonstration of this achievement. For the first time, this area of healthcare is firmly on the Scottish political agenda with the Chief Nursing Officer’s Transforming Nursing Roles programme providing the following agreed definition for an ANP role:
- An Advanced Nurse Practitioner (ANP) is an experienced and highly educated Registered Nurse who manages the complete clinical care for their patient, not solely any specific condition. Advanced practice is a level of practice, rather than a type or speciality of practice.
- ANPs are educated at Masters Level in advanced practice and are assessed as competent in this level of practice. As a clinical leader they have the freedom and authority to act and accept the responsibility and accountability for those actions. This level of practice is characterized by high level autonomous decision making, including assessment, diagnosis, treatment including prescribing, of patients with complex multi-dimensional problems. Decisions are made using high-level expert knowledge and skills. This includes the authority to refer, admit and discharge within appropriate clinical areas.
- Working as part of the multidisciplinary team ANPs can work in or across all clinical settings, dependent on their area of expertise.
Advanced nursing has 4 pillars of practice which ANP’s must have as part of their core role and function and although the primary focus is on clinical practice, all 4 practice pillars must be demonstrated. These are:
- Clinical practice
- Facilitation of learning
- Evidence, research and development.
The demonstration of achievement of the pillars of practice and consequently the ANP role has also been clearly defined at national level and this involves the outlining of professional competencies, participation in effective clinical supervision and meeting robust continuous personal development. Within NHSD&G Acute & Diagnostics Directorate, the value placed upon this level of practice has been highlighted by the appointment of an ANP clinical manager to deliver this national agenda in a cohesive, collaborative and joined-up way across NHSDG to ensure we are meeting our strategic responsibilities within this national framework.
Both nationally and locally, discussion and debate has taken place on the differences between advanced and specialist practice and as these nursing roles have progressed, differences and similarities have become evident. This is a wide-ranging area for debate encompassing all aspects of specialist practice but it is worthwhile to clarify that advanced and specialist practice should not be seen as directly hierarchical relationships; advanced nursing is not more senior than specialist and the reverse is equally applicable. Both levels of practitioners function at an extremely high level of practice, but with very different clinical focuses.
In summary therefore, it is obvious that advanced practice has evolved over a significant period of time and has ‘proved its worth’ in a number of healthcare areas with significant benefits for the delivery, safety and quality of patient care. Even though this concept has been fairly consistently on the agenda, the momentum around the role, its function and the measures of achievement and effectiveness has significantly gathered pace over the last 10 years with a further ‘injection’ since the implementation of Transforming Nursing Roles. This galloping horse (it is Ascot Week after all!) will only gather pace as more healthcare professionals such as physiotherapists, dieticians, pharmacists to name but a few, begin to realise the potential for their own advanced roles. This can only be a good thing with advanced practitioners now able to drive their own development whilst clearly evidencing their clinical confidence and competence for a discerning public who, quite rightly expect the best.
Exciting times ahead – are you ready to jump aboard?
Barbara Tamburrini is the ANP Clinical Manager