The Times Higher Education reports this week on comments made by Vince Cable at an event hosted by the Sutton Trust. According to the THE, the Business Secretary:
[…] has criticised the “qualification inflation” that means entrants to “very standard” professions such as nursing require a degree.
In truth I find the THE‘s report a little disjointed, as elsewhere it quotes Vince Cable on a host of other matters including private schooling, support for postgraduate study and the promotion of social mobility.
But I understand enough of it to take issue with the Business Secretary’s side-swipe at graduate nurses. On what grounds might we distinguish ‘standard’ from ‘elite’ professions, or sustain the argument that only those joining the latter must of necessity possess degrees? We await an explanation. In the meantime, for a considered review of nursing education I refer readers to the report of the Willis Commission, which I wrote about on this blog last year. For a research-oriented post on the division of labour in health care (and particularly, on professions in the mental health field), try this post.
Nursing education sometimes gets a bad press. Students following degree-level pre-registration courses have been variously described as ‘too posh to wash’, or ‘too clever to care’. I’ve never got the argument that it’s an either/or thing. Why can’t nurses be both well-educated and caring? So I was interested to come across the final report of the Willis Commission on nursing education.
This was sponsored by the Royal College of Nursing, and set out to answer the question, ‘What essential features of preregistration nursing education in the UK, and what types of support for newly registered practitioners, are needed to create and maintain a workforce of competent, compassionate nurses fit to deliver future health and social care services?’ I confess I was doubly interested in all this as RCN Mental Health Advisor Ian Hulatt, who I used to share an office with when he worked in Cardiff before taking up his current position, played a big part in getting the Commission off the ground.
There was some scepticism about the timing of the Commission when it was first set up, particularly as nursing programmes throughout the UK were then in the process of being rewritten in response to new regulatory standards. But the final report isn’t about the strengths or shortcomings of particular curricula. What it is concerned with is the preparation and place of nurses in the contemporary health care context. I think the key messages are balanced ones, beginning with a clear emphasis on ‘patient-centred care [as] the golden thread’. There’s also an endorsement of universities’ involvement in nursing education, and of the importance of well-educated, research-minded, practitioners able to fulfil roles in increasingly complex healthcare workplaces.