Nurse leaders are demanding clarity over Conservative plans for educational reform amid widespread confusion over the party’s policy on graduate level entry.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley last week told Nursing Times it was unnecessary to ensure all nurses had degrees on entering the profession, and that it should be an aspiration rather than a necessity.
Anne Marie Rafferty, dean of King’s College London Florence Nightingale school of nursing and midwifery, said any political uncertainty over the issue should not delay the move to a graduate-only profession.
She said there was an “urgency” in moving the plans forward, given the increasing demands of healthcare. She said:” This doesn’t represent a clear policy pathway. What would be welcome is hearing exactly what the policy structure and the timetable for implementation would be.
“The timetable that the government has set out is absolutely the right one. What’s the reason for delaying it?”
Associate dean Alison While added: “The potential dilution of this government’s policy is not helpful if we wish to have a world class registered nursing workforce available across the UK to deliver and lead exemplary nursing care in our health services.
“I hope this is not the beginning of nursing becoming a political football in the run up to a general election,” she said.
This week shadow health minister Anne Milton appeared to change the Tory position on the issue when questioned by Nursing Times.
Asked if her party opposed graduate-only entry for nurses, she said: “That’s not the case. There’s no doubt about it, registered nurses should have degrees.”
She said: “We haven’t published a policy yet – [graduate-only entry might be introduced by] 2011 or 2013 and a half – but there’s no doubt about it that all registered nurses need a degree.”
But she added that “nursing care” did not need to be carried out by people with degrees.
Last week Mr Lansley said that if everyone who carried out nursing needed to have a degree, that would “close out people…who have a great deal potentially to offer”.
A further clarification from the Conservatives this week seemed to introduce the possibility of having registered and non registered nurses.
A spokesman said: “A degree is not necessary to enter the nursing profession. But once in the profession, people can have the option of getting a degree should they wish to become a registered nurse.”
Council of Deans of health chair Sue Bernhauser said: “If people want to care but don’t have the attributes to [get a] degree there are other avenues such as becoming a healthcare assistant.”
Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust chief nurse and operating officer Karen Castille said there was a distinction between care and nursing.
She said: “Nurses do nursing but many people – the public, volunteers, friends – provide care. There’s a difference between nursing and providing care.
“Healthcare assistants provide care and have gone through good assessment processes…and we’d fall over without them. But at the end of the day nurses are accountable for the care and HCAs don’t take that level of accountability.”
She wanted more information on what the Tories felt was a reasonable timeframe for nursing for become an all graduate profession.
She said: “I heard him talking about a long transitional period. It would be interesting further down the line to better understand what they mean by that.”
There was a “danger that all-degree training might put some people off”, he said.
He added: “That’s why we’re looking at turning the degree from one big course into smaller modules, so it’s a steady ramp into nursing and not an intimidating step up.”