Speaking at a conference organised by SGUL and Kingston University's joint Faculty, the new nursing director at St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has backed the move for all new nurses to have degrees. Alison Robertson stressed that the development is about complexity of care rather than elitism.

Ms Robertson made her comments at a one-day conference on the “healthcare workforce of tomorrow” organised by the Faculty of Health and Social Care Sciences. The Faculty is run jointly by St George’s, University of London and Kingston University.

Around 40 leading health care professionals from across London attended the event in December at Kingston University’s Dorich House Museum.

Keynote speaker Ms Robertson is currently Chief Nurse at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, and will be taking on a similar role as Director of Nursing and Patient Safety at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust early in 2010. She defended the move for all new nurses in England to hold a degree-level qualification to enter the profession from 2013. At present only about a quarter of nursing students take degrees, the rest study for two-year diplomas.

Critics have complained that the change will restrict entry to the profession and put academic study above practical work and compassion.

But Ms Robertson said: “To my mind graduate entry by 2013 is the right step. Scotland and Wales have already done this and so have midwives; we should be there too.” She added: “It’s not about elitism; it’s about the complexity of care that we are delivering now and will be delivering in the future.”  

Delegates split into smaller groups to discuss the content of future degree programmes in nursing and how the university and other agencies should educate health professionals.

Professor Fiona Ross, the Dean of the Faculty, said the groups were structured, focused, animated and productive.

“We were genuinely delighted by the exchange of ideas between senior managers across the spectrum of care settings in London with senior managers in the university.”

She said some consensus emerged that universities and health care agencies needed to look at ways of widening access to and improving training for support workers and assistant practitioners, particularly in primary care, mental health and acute care. More training for support workers already in employment was also recommended. Prof Ross said the groups also emphasised the need for the undergraduate nursing curriculum to be centred on patients and pathways rather than the more traditional placements.

Shelley Dolan, Chief Nurse at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said her group discussed how to improve collaboration between acute trusts, the community and education providers to produce a workforce that met future needs. She added that the group also discussed how the health service and universities could ensure that health and social care professionals worked together more closely.

During the conference David Knowles, Non-Executive Director and Vice-Chairman of Kingston NHS Primary Care Trust, spoke about the challenges facing primary care trusts while SGUL Principal Professor Peter Kopelman talked about the role of the Academic Health and Social Care Network (AHSCN). The Network aims to share best practice in health and social care in the boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Merton, Wandsworth, Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames.