Nursing staff is split into two main groups:

  1. Non-registered staff (e.g. clinical support workers and healthcare assistants)
  2. Registered staff (split into three groups)
  • First level nurses
  • Specialist nurses
  • Managers

There are approximately 400,000 nurses in the United Kingdom who work for the National Health Service (NHS). To practise, all nurses must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

First level nurses make up the bulk of the registered nurses in the UK. General nurses at this level were previously known as state registered nurses (SRN) and later as registered general nurses (RGN).

Specialist nurses
The NHS employs a huge variety of specialist nurses. These nurses have many years of experience in their field, in addition to extra education and training.They split into several major groups:

Nurse Practitioners, these nurses carry out care at an advanced practice level. They often perform roles similar to those of doctors. They commonly work in primary care (e.g., GP surgeries) or A&E departments, although they are increasingly being seen in other areas of practice.

Specialist Community Public Health Nurses, traditionally known as District Nurses and Health Visitors, this group of practitioners now includes many School Nurses and Occupational Health Nurses.

Clinical Nurse Specialists, these roles commonly provide clinical leadership and education for the Staff Nurses working in their department, and will also have special skills and knowledge which ward nurses can draw upon.

Nurse Consultants, these nurses are similar in many ways to the clinical nurse specialist, but at a higher level. These practitioners are responsible for clinical education and training of those in their department, and many also have active research and publication activities.

Lecturer-Practitioners, these nurses work both in the NHS, and in universities. They typically work for 2–3 days per week in each setting. In university, they may train pre-registration student nurses and often teach on specialist courses for post-registration nurses (e.g. a Lecturer-practitioner in critical care may teach on a Masters degree in critical care nursing). Lecturer-Practitioners are now more often referred to by the more common job title of Practice Education Facilitators (shortened by student nurses to PEFs).

Lecturers, these nurses are not employed by the NHS. Instead they work full-time in universities, both teaching and performing research. Typically lecturers in nursing are qualified to a minimum of master’s degree and some are also qualified to PhD level. Some senior lecturers also attain the title of Professor. This title is more often the School/Department Dean e.g. Dean/Vice Dean School of Health & Social Care.

Managers, many nurses who have worked in clinical settings for a long time choose to leave clinical nursing and join the ranks of the NHS and independent care sector management. This used to be seen as a natural career progression for those who had reached ward management positions, however with the advent of specialist nursing roles this has become a less attractive option.