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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Will a degree really help a frightened patient?

13th November 2009

Raymond Tallis, former Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester, sees no evidence that graduates will make better nurses.


In 35 years as a doctor, I worked with some extraordinarily gifted nurses; people who were knowledgeable, dedicated and hardworking but also had compassion, empathy, common sense and grace under pressure.

But there are those who are not up to the job. There are cases of inadequate, inappropriate treatment or even mistreatment.

Health Minister Ann Keen’s speech announcing measures that will raise the quality of patient care is welcome but this may not have been precisely what the patient ordered.

The logic that a four-year degree course will make the profession more attractive to young people also escapes me.

The Department of Health argues that graduates would be better able to deal with “increasingly complex care in an increasingly challenging health and social care system”.

But it is not clear that the difference between a degree course and the existing diploma will necessarily equip nurses to function better.

A deeper concern about the degree level proposal is that it will not address the failures of basic care with the new emphasis on the academic aspects of nursing, rather than practical skills and hands-on care.

Focusing on more abstract and theoretical issues in the degree course might diminish the commitment to basic nursing — a fear captured in the phrase “too posh to wash”.

Already, some core nursing activities are handed over to healthcare assistants.

One can only hope that this latest development in nurse training will not simply place more distance between nurses and the patients who need their care.


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