A flood of courses in advanced nursing, often at masters degree level, may be appearing too quickly, even before a consensus has been reached about what "advanced nursing" is, a conference will hear next week.
This could produce nurses equipped in skills that they are either barred from practising or unwittingly lose because they rarely get to use them, said Susan Read, a senior lecturer at Sheffield University's school of nursing and midwifery.
Dozens of such courses are being validated, Dr Read said, in response to the offloading by doctors of some of their duties on to nurses. The subject of advanced nursing is still controversial in the nursing world, she said.
Dr Read will debate the subject with George Castledine, professor of nursing studies at the University of Central England, at a meeting of the Nurse Education Tomorrow conference at Durham University.
She said that the role of nurses has expanded since 1992, when their statutory body gave them more discretion about what jobs they could do and the Government reduced junior doctors' hours, with the consequence that some of their work was passed on to nurses.
"Very many nurses have taken on new roles which are blending previous medical roles with nursing roles but it has produced quite a lot of argument among nurses," she said. "Educationists and others feel that doctors are dumping jobs on nurses and they shouldn't be accepting these things. A large body of opinion is suspicious. But many nurses feel it is to the patient's benefit."
The nurses' statutory body, the UKCC, is holding consultations about how to define advanced nursing and whether it should be legislated for, she said.
"There is a tremendous expansion in masters courses," Dr Read said. "But people who have had their education may not be free to practise what they have been taught because their professional context does not give them the ability to practise." Another fear is that nurses will feel they are competent at certain things but, with few opportunities to practise, they may in fact have lost their skills.