According to the final report of The Willis Commission, published today, the move to degree-level nursing registration has become “a lightning conductor for disquiet, offering a simplistic and erroneous explanation” for a perceived increase in the number of cases where nurses have been found to neglect their patients.
“Anxiety among patients and the public – regularly fuelled by sections of the media – that graduate nurses will be less compassionate and caring than nurses without degrees provides a turbulent backdrop to the many unresolved challenges facing nursing education today,” says the report, titled 'Quality with Compassion: the future of nursing education'.
However, graduate nurses have play a key role in driving up standards and preparing a nursing workforce fit for the future, the report concludes, adding that the commission had found “no evidence” of any major shortcomings in nursing education that could be held directly responsible for poor practice.
It adds that the quality of some placements carried out as part of nursing degrees needed improvement and urges healthcare managers, mentors and universities to work better together improve the quality of training in “real life” settings.
Lord Willis of Knaresborough, the former Liberal Democrat MP who chaired the commission, said moving to an all-graduate nursing profession is not simply desirable, but essential.
“Indeed, we found it totally illogical to claim that by increasing the intellectual requirements for nursing, essential for professional responsibilities such as prescribing, recruits will be less caring or compassionate,” he said.
Jessica Corner, dean of health sciences at the University of Southampton – the first to introduce an all-graduate nursing programme – welcomed the commission’s findings.
“To meet the changing needs of healthcare we need well-trained, high-calibre nurses who are supported and well prepared to uphold person-centred care, attending to the basics of what people need when they are ill, especially those who are vulnerable,” Professor Corner said.
“Nurses need to know the science behind what creates the circumstances to get care right. Being trained at degree level offers students the opportunity to access world-class scientific research that will aid their care giving skills.
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, added: “There is no truth in the suggestion that because nurses receive training from universities as well as on the ward they become less caring; in fact, the evidence suggests that graduates drive up standards and have the skills needed to face the additional demands which the future will bring.”