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UK’s surgical colleges declare support for nurses in wake of degree letter row


Surgical representative bodies have said they do not support the views of a surgeon who recently claimed that nurses were less compassionate since nursing became a graduate profession.

Nursing Times contacted the UK’s two surgical colleges in the wake of comments published in the Daily Telegraph earlier this month and then widely discussed on the social media site Twitter.

“The value of extending the role of nurses cannot be underestimated”

Michael Lavelle-Jones

Robert Jackson, described by the paper as a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, claimed making nursing degree-only entry had led to the “demise of the traditional hands-on compassionate nurse”.

In the letter published on 20 January, he also suggested that nurses were merely employed to “support” doctors and the loss of “vocational nursing” was contributing to destroying the NHS.

Mr Jackson was himself responding to an earlier editorial published in the same paper on 18 January, which argued that nursing had “lost its humanity” when it became a graduate profession.

As reported this weekby Nursing Times, nurse leaders, educators and researchers have subsequently defended nursing as a degree-only entry profession, following the controversial views aired in the newspaper.

The Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh have now said that Mr Jackson’s views do not represent theirs and that professionalism can only improve care.

Professor Michael Lavelle-Jones, president of the Edinburgh college, said claiming the rise in nurse professionalism was responsible for poor care and the staffing crisis was “inaccurate as it is wrong”.

Daily Telegraph

Surgeon letter on degrees

Robert Jackson’s letter

“The NHS is faced with increasingly complex demands that must be underpinned by robust education and continuous training across all health professions,” he told Nursing Times.

“To argue that nurses no longer perform tasks they see as somehow beneath them insults their dedication and professionalism and in no way contributes to the important debate on how to ensure the future of the NHS and the high standards of patient care that we all aspire to,” he said.

“The value of extending the role of nurses cannot be underestimated,” he added, highlighting the college’s own Faculty of Perioperative Care, which he said had demonstrated the positive impact of nursing on “driving up healthcare standards and embedding a patient-centred approach to care”.

Professor Lavelle-Jones also stated there was now a “broad consensus” among policy-makers and clinicians that the “problems facing the NHS are down to a shortage of staff and under resourcing”.

“Nursing is without a doubt a compassionate and caring profession”

RCSEng spokeswoman

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Surgeons of England said: “Nursing is without a doubt a compassionate and caring profession.

“As surgeons, we are very grateful for the hard work and compassion shown by nurses, especially at a time when the NHS is facing huge pressure,” she said.

“Comments to The Daily Telegraph on the impact on nursing degrees do not represent the views of the Royal College of Surgeons,” she added.

Attacks have continued to dog nursing since it became a graduate profession during the 1960s and ultimately degree-only entry in England in 2013 – though it was preceded by the rest of the UK.

The argument has often centred around the former use of state enrolled nurses, but the debate has also been reawakened by government policy to introduce nursing associates and apprenticeships.

Assistant nurses, later known as the state enrolled nurses, appeared in 1943 but were phased out during the early 1990s after the restructuring of nurse education under Project 2000.

Enrolled, or vocationally trained, nurses were recorded by the General Nursing Councils – a forerunner if the Nursing and Midwifery Council – but did not have to undergo full registration.


Readers' comments (4)

  • The whole healthcare world is made up of tiers: medics, HCPs and then support staff. In the UK these are worryingly linked to class. Each tier is very protective of their roles and responsibilities. The excessive tuition fees seem to have further entrenched this, especially if you have already done a degree. I wonder if this has anything to do with the surgeon’s opinion?

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  • Why is it nurses are the only health care professional who are told that being degree educated means they lack compassion and hands on I.e practical ability? Nobody says it about doctors or physics.n

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  • Agree with Jennifer Hunt. No-one says a Dr is less compassionate because he/she has a degree. Or a physio. Or an OT. This surgeon is stuck in a time when nurses were nothing more than handmaidens to Dr's, some with with over inflated egos. I don't have a degree but have been nursing since I was 17 years old. I am in my 60th year, dual qualified, educated and yes, compassionate. But no moreso than any other nurse, degree educated or not.

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  • I agree with all above, I also cannot understand why some nurses feel that they don't need a degree to be a nurse. My answer to that is yes you do! As a nurse you interact with many other professions, social workers, physiotherapist, Occupational therapist, pharmacist, Doctors all of these professions are degree based. This is why they all look down on nurses and we as a profession is feeding this beast by say a degree is not necessary. I did a traditional nursing course and enjoyed it immensely but I saw the direction nursing was going and did a degree after qualifying.

    We as a profession must stick together, we cannot argue for better pay, or to be consider as a profession without a degree.

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