public sector nursing, private sector nursing, nursing in the UK, types of nurses in the UK

What type of nurses are there in the UK?

By Paul Hayward

​Nursing has changed considerably in the 150 years since Florence Nightingale founded the first nursing school in London. While compassionate care is still the cornerstone of nursing no matter which country you practice in, advances in science and technology and our changing health needs mean, as a role, it has evolved dramatically here in the UK. Demand is greater than ever, with nurses seeing more patients who have more complex health conditions. It’s not necessarily an easy career choice; supporting and caring for patients through some of the most challenging moments of their lives can be emotionally tough, but enormously rewarding too.

Nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system; their knowledge, skills and commitment form the basis of our high-quality patient care. And, there are several different types in the UK.

The most common roles include:

  • Clinical nurse specialist - an expert with a background in a particular area, e.g. breast or bowel cancer

  • Matron - provides clinical leadership across a group of wards in a hospital

  • Charge nurse - responsible for the overall running of each ward and for keeping high standards of nursing care

  • Staff nurse - makes up most of any ward/unit team and is accountable for all patient care

  • Research nurse - helps to run clinical trials and provides information and support to the patients involved

  • Advanced nurse practitioner - highly experienced; they diagnose, treat and prescribe referrals for patients who present with undiagnosed/undifferentiated problems

…to name just a few!

Find out what qualifications you need to practice as a nurse in the UK!

Public vs. private sector

As an international nurse relocating to the UK, it is possible you’ll have the opportunity to choose between a job in either the public or private sector. Whilst the basic role of a nurse doesn’t really change across the sectors, the settings and internal processes could differ considerably:

  • Public sector

The main opportunities will be at the NHS, and will include primary care nursing where you’ll work with patients at the onset of a health problem, emergency care nursing where you will care for those with acute or specialist problems, or tertiary nursing, which is specialised care in areas such as cardiac surgery.

Another option is the British Army, which recruits nurses to provide care here and overseas.

  • Private sector

Independent healthcare organisations provide a large amount of long-term care within the UK, often helping to reduce strain on the NHS and its waiting lists. Opportunities will include profit organisations, charities, schools, universities and other companies that require in-house medical professionals.

For more information on moving to the UK, read our collection of blogs.