Nursing staff are being encouraged to undertake a two year course to become ‘surgical care practitioners’ as part of a drive to ease waiting times - but critics say it will make the nursing shortage even worse.
Those who qualify will be able to assist during major surgeries, such as heart bypasses, as well as hip and knee replacements, according to the Daily Mail.
They will also be tasked with removing hernias, benign cysts and some skin cancers, as well as closing up incisions after operations.
Surgical care practitioners earn about £50,000 a year – twice the average nursing salary of £25,000 a year – making it an attractive career path.
NHS People Plan
The proposals are contained within the NHS’s People Plan, due to be unveiled next month.
This will set out how the health service needs to transform its working practices to keep pace with the demands of a growing and ageing population.
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, Munira Wilson, said, "This is a sticking plaster solution to a very serious staffing crisis across our NHS workforce.'"
Surgeons working in the UK currently undergo up to 16 years of training, while a surgical care practitioner is likely to have completed a three year degree as a nurse before the secondary two year course begins.
The proposals were backed by Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. He said, "We are totally supportive of this. We have very little anxiety about this.”
There are already 800 surgical care practitioners working in hospitals in the UK, but leading surgeons say there will need to be "thousands" before the difference to waiting times is felt.
12% of nursing posts currently vacant
Last year it was revealed that there are just under 4.4 million people waiting for routine treatment on the NHS, up from 4.1 million in 2018.
Meanwhile, around 12 per cent of nursing posts remain vacant, while NHS pension changes in 2016 saw 69 per cent of surgeons cutting back their hours to avoid punitive taxes.
Nurses who retrain to become surgical care practitioners will still be overseen by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
An NHS spokesman said, "The NHS is supporting the Government to deliver its pledge to deliver 50,000 more nurses.
"This will require a combination of training and recruiting nurses, and helping our amazing staff who may otherwise have considered leaving our health service altogether, to retrain, upskill, develop their careers and stay in the NHS."