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Move to all graduate nursing 'desirable and essential'

The move to ensure nursing is an 'all-graduate profession' has had no “detrimental” effect on the quality of care given to patients.

The report Quality with Compassion: the future of nursing educationby the Willis Commission found the move to more academic training for nurses was “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,” said Lord Willis of Knaresborough, who chaired the commission.

“Such accusations are seldom made against other all-graduate professions such as medicine, midwifery or physiotherapy, and there is absolutely no evidence to support them in nursing.”

Despite this, the commission claimed the quality of some placements carried out as part of a nursing degree needs “improvement” and called upon managers, mentors and universities to work better together.

The commission also urged that patient involvement be “embedded” in the development of future nurses by healthcare providers, universities and local education and training boards.

Other key recommendations included that healthcare assistants be independently regulated and trained to a minimum of NVQ level 3 and a requirement for newly qualified nurses to undergo a full “preceptorship programme”, where they receive extra support and mentoring during their first year in practice, must be of a “high standard and must be the norm”.

“The notion that nurses can be educated in a silo, and that following registration they are the finished article, could not be further from the truth. This is why high quality mentorship, preceptorship and continuing professional development are crucial to improving patient outcomes,” said Lord Willis.

“Nursing education thrives when all staff, from medics to healthcare assistants, are constantly having their skills refreshed and updated - including the development of teamwork. We hope that policy-makers, employers, universities and professional bodies recognise and act on this challenge.”

The commission claimed the government and other stakeholders must work together to “bust the myth” that educated nurses are less caring.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), who set up the commission, welcomed the report and announced it is “committed to playing its part” in supporting nurse education.

“We are reassured that Lord Willis' Commission has put beyond doubt the fact that the nursing profession of the present and the future requires a workforce which is educated to degree level,” said Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN.

“Improvements will need to be made to the profession in the future, notably in the regulation of Healthcare Assistants and the need to make all student placements match the very best. However the evidence in this report makes it very clear - the way to do this is to continue with nursing as an all-graduate profession. 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.”