A 10 per cent increase in the proportion of nurses holding a bachelor’s degree is associated with a 7 per cent decrease in the risk of death, according to the research published in the Lancet on 26 February.
The RN4CAST study analysed data from more than 420,000 patients in 300 hospitals across nine European countries.
The report’s findings come amid concerns that the rise of nurses with degrees has failed to improve the standard of care in the NHS because their training does not do enough to promote compassion towards patients.
A shake-up of nurse training, which would see trainee nurses work as health care assistant before qualifying, was announced last year by the government following a report into the failings at Stafford Hospital, one of the biggest scandals in the history of the NHS.
Ieuan Ellis, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, which represents all UK university faculties providing education and research for nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions, said the research “comprehensively rebuts the myth that degree-level education for nurses is a retrograde step”.
“In fact, this study shows that education to bachelor’s level is a significant protective factor in reducing unnecessary hospital deaths,” Professor Ellis added.
The study also found that every extra patient added to a nurse’s workload increases the chance of surgical patients dying within 30 days of admission by 7 per cent.
“The study notes that nursing is often seen as a soft target when money is tight,” Professor Ellis added.
“We now need to focus on protecting and increasing investment in nursing education and getting enough staff into services to support consistently good care for patients and their families.”
He added that the study shows that “quite clearly that the investment is worth it”.