Sterile debate

November 21, 2013

Vince Cable thinks that nurses having degrees is “just qualification inflation” (“Vince Cable slams ‘qualification inflation’ in ‘standard’ professions”, 13 November). It is unfortunate that he is seemingly unaware of the benefits to patients of nurses being educated to degree level.

The international RN4CAST study of nurses in more than 10 European countries (including England) shows that mortality is approximately 7 per cent lower for every 10 per cent increase in the proportion of nurses with degrees. This backs up work in the US by University of Pennsylvania scholar Linda Aiken, who found that a 10 per cent increase in the number of nurses with a bachelor’s degree was associated with a 5 per cent reduction in the likelihood of patients dying within 30 days of admission.

Given these data, perhaps it is unsurprising that every major UK review of nursing has supported degree-level education as the right preparation for the challenging and complex roles that nurses undertake. We should be proud of our graduate nurses, helping them to apply their skills to lead innovation and improvement in patient care, encouraging them to engage in research and supporting them to challenge poor practice.

The sterile debate about whether nurses need degrees is a distraction from the real challenges. We need to be clear about the risk of downgrading and cutting post-registration training, and work with partners across health and social care to make sure that practice placements provide high-quality learning environments for students. We need to support efforts to build research capacity and develop consistent career pathways to support clinical academics. We also have a role to play in helping health and social care address some of their most difficult problems: moving to more community based delivery, tackling persistent health inequalities and promoting effective integration, to name but a few.

Ieuan Ellis
Council of Deans of Health

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