In papers prepared for the NMC consultation, which closed last week, Unison criticised the idea, suggesting it was elitist. But RCN policy remains that graduate education is needed in order to equip nurses for future healthcare environments.
Unison said such a move would further narrow the range of people accepted into nursing and would not benefit the NHS.
It said there was already a ‘worrying’ discrepancy between the rate of pre-registration applications accepted from non-white students compared with
white groups. Only 6% of nurses educated in the UK are from black and minority ethnic groups.
Unison’s head of nursing Gail Adams said there was a risk of the profession becoming elitist if it was graduate only. ‘It is important for nurses to have different ways to enter the profession. Their backgrounds should be as wide as possible to reflect society. There is a really good balance between diploma and degree as things stand at the moment,’ she said.
Unison also suggested a move to degree-only training would eventually lead to a reduction in the number of band 5 and 6 nurses and only a slight increase in those on band 7 and 8, suggesting that the overall number of registered nurses could in fact be reduced.
While the RCN admitted in its response that its own members could not reach a consensus on the issue, it reiterated its own policy position that the profession should become graduate-only.
RCN head of policy Howard Catton said: ‘There can be a tendency to look back on the development of nursing through rose-tinted spectacles. However, it’s vital at this critical juncture for the nursing profession that we don’t mistake ambition for elitism and that the profession continues to drive forward.’
One area where there has been agreement is the need for a mandatory post-training period to help nurses with the transition into clinical practice.
‘I think there’s agreement that there’s a gap between education and service. We need to bridge that gap,’ Mr Catton said.