A degree should be an aspiration for nurses, rather than an entry requirement, shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley has told Nursing Times.
Mr Lansley also said that nursing should not be something that only nurses do and professions should not be defined by “workplace demarcations” but by professional competencies and qualifications.
The man most expect to be the next health secretary should the Conservatives win the general election was making a speech to the Nursing Times Summit. The full text of the speech can be read exclusively here.
He said: “It’s clear that for nurses to meet the professional standard we seek they must be educated to an advanced level to equip [them] with the skills to plan, lead, manage and deliver evidence-based nursing care.
“But we also know that there are some people who have all the skills to make great nurses who would be deterred by the apparent academic requirements of a degree.
“I am in no doubt that nurses should – or be able to – become graduates, especially to lead and develop nursing services; however there are many of those involved with the care of patients who do not need a degree for the work that they do.”
Mr Lansley said the structure of qualifications should “reflect the wide range of roles and requirements of the service”, adding that nursing carries “all the hallmarks of professions which we would generally now regard as at graduate-level”.
But he said: “It is however not necessary to ensure that a degree is an entry requirement to the profession, rather than the level of qualification which nurses should achieve as a result of their education, training and practice.”
His comments come as shadow health minister Anne Milton writes in this week’s Nursing Times that nurses who have fed back to the Conservative consultation on the future of nursing had given mixed feedback on the move to a graduate-entry only nursing profession. Ms Milton writes: “All of these are legitimate concerns and we must make sure that any policy to make nursing a degree only profession deals with them.”
Mr Lansley said nurses’ knowledge, skills and competences must be clearly defined. “There will increasingly be overlap between staff groups in the tasks they do; doctors and nurses or nurses and therapists.
He told the Nursing Times Summit: “It is important to distinguish between nurses and nursing. Not everything that is nursing is done by nurses. Let’s be flexible about that and not conform to rigid demarcations of practice.
“If there are those in positions to provide aspects of that care, we should support a professional structure that allows that and not try artificially to have a rigid structure that says if you do nursing therefore you must be a nurse and therefore you need a degree. That would close out people… who have a great deal potentially to offer.”
He said this was “a priority task” and urged nurses to get involved in its development. “I urge the nursing profession to take ownership of this. Do not think it is for government – any government – to prescribe to you,” he said.
NHS staff are its greatest asset, and nurses “are at the heart of providing great care”. Mr Lansley said the public needed a better understanding of the role of nurses’ today and that the onus is on government and NHS employers “to deliver positive images of nursing as a dynamic 21st century career to the public: to show that there is a wide range of jobs in nursing, including senior clinical and management roles”.
Mr Lansley’s comments came on the day that the Nursing and Midwifery Council launched a major consultation on the future of pre-registration education, with a particular focus on the move to a graduate-only entry profession in England.
The regulator is seeking views on the knowledge and skills that nurses of the future will need to practice. The three-month consultation will end on 23 April.