Nurses will be given the “respect they deserve” if the Government protects their job title in law, ministers have been told.
Concerns have been raised over people who describe themselves as nurses spreading misinformation, including about Covid vaccines.
Labour former minister Dawn Butler is backing calls to give the title “nurse” special status in a bid to improve patient safety.
The title “registered nurse” is protected in the UK, and all nurses and midwives must register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council to practice.
However, the title “nurse” has no legal protection.
Brent Central MP Ms Butler said: “Our amazing registered nurses have been on the frontline during the pandemic, as they always are.
“They protect us every day, so we must protect and value them and their profession too.
“This change will also safeguard patient safety by preventing against harmful misinformation, for example from people who may have been struck off or who are not qualified nurses.”
She added: “This pandemic has shown us that it is vital that we give nurses the respect they deserve.”
Anti-vaccination activist Kate Shemirani, who was struck off the official register, claims to be a nurse.
According to the NMC, she was “removed by a fitness to practise panel”, however in speeches at demonstrations she continues to describe herself as a nurse.
Professor Alison Leary, chair of Healthcare and Workforce Modelling at London South Bank University, has said that this risks “giving credibility” to the anti-vaccination movement.
But Professor Leary also said protecting the title was important to create “absolute clarity” about the medical professionals who are treating patients, and to make sure patients were getting good care.
She said: “In this country we have got, depending on who you speak to – in England – between 34,000 and 50,000 registered nurse vacancies, and employers inside and outside the NHS are actually quite desperate to fill them.
“A lot of people think it is just that there is no money, but these jobs are established jobs and they don’t have the people to fill them.”
She added the vacancies are often filled by physiotherapists, and occupational therapists, medical workers who have “value in their own right” but not the right skills to be a “vigilant professional” as nurses are.
Professor Leary described nurses as the “air traffic controllers of healthcare” because they “pick out the signs that someone is getting sicker and they manage care”.
The professor warned: “What we have known for many years, every single inquiry from Ely Hospital in the 1960s to Cawston Park a couple of weeks ago, shows that if you don’t have enough registered nurses or you don’t have people with the right qualifications and experience then catastrophic things happen to patients.”
A petition to make nurse a protected title in law has been opened on Parliament’s website by Professor Leary, and has been signed by more than 29,000 people.
Ms Butler asked the Government, via a written parliamentary question, if it is planning to protect the title.
Health minister Edward Argar replied: “The Department (of Health and Social Care) has begun discussions with the professional regulators, including the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Office of the Chief Nursing Officer for England, and the Royal College of Nursing to explore the issue of protected titles as part of the ongoing Government review of professional regulation.
“We will consider the protection of title offences relating to registered nurses, midwives and nursing associates when bringing forward reform of the NMC’s legal framework.”