Recently I’ve had people ask me what right the ANF has to develop national professional standards. This has prompted me to respond by writing on professional practice standards in this column.
There are two forms of regulation under which we practice as nurses and midwives: statutory regulation and self-regulation. The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA) regulates nurses and midwives under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (2009) – this is statutory regulation. Under statutory regulation aspects of our professional practice are set in legislation, such as: title protection, requirements for registration – minimum education and competence standards for entry to practice, and continued fitness to practice standards.
National minimum standards of competence are prescribed in the National Law 2009 for registered nurses, enrolled nurses, registered midwives and nurse practitioners. The NMBA uses these standards to determine the eligibility of people applying for a licence to practice as a nurse or midwife, in Australia. In contrast, self-regulation, where the profession itself develops standards, is an essential mark of a professional group. Nurses and midwives in Australia have worked hard, over many years, to gain the professional status we enjoy today. This means that within our professions – nursing and midwifery – we have the ability to determine the standards for our own professional practice beyond beginning/entry to practice level. Self-regulated standards are not set in legislation and do not have a legally binding force. They may, however, be used in a court of law as ‘soft law’, as a measure by which to judge the actions or behaviour of a nurse or midwife in a particular situation, in conjunction with statutory regulation criteria.
The nursing and midwifery professions use standards of practice in a peer review context, as a framework against which to measure their own performance, and, to set goals for maintaining or enhancing practice (ANF 2005). Specific professional practice (competency) standards have been developed by specialty nursing organisations: critical care, operating rooms, palliative care, mental health, gastroenterology, and diabetes education, to name a few.
As the largest professional and industrial body in Australia for nurses and midwives, the ANF takes seriously its professional leadership role. Accordingly, we led the formulation of professional practice standards for: the advanced registered nurse, the advanced enrolled nurse, nurses in general practice, and most recently, informatics (in publication) and school nurses. The ANF will continue to ensure that the professions maintain ownership of the self-regulatory standards by which we describe safe and competent nursing and midwifery practice.
Federal Professional Officer
Australian Nursing Federation. 2005. Competency Standards for nurses in general practice. Available at: http://anf.org.au/pages/competency-standards