Don't forget tomorrow's nurses

One of the common criticisms of nurses in the past few years is that they have become "too posh to wash".

The phrase has been coined in reaction to the growing number of nurses who enter the profession after completing a university degree rather than through the old apprenticeship system whereby hospitals took responsibility for training nurses on the job.

Like many issues it can be tempting to look back at the old way of doing things with rose-tinted glasses.

Those in charge of nursing are largely fully-behind the move to degree-level training - from next year all nurses in England will have to come through this route.

So it comes as no surprise that the Willis Commission, set up by the Royal College of Nursing to look at nurse education, has given its whole-hearted backing to university training for nurses.

Lord Willis, the Lib Dem peer who chaired the commission, suggested such accusations were unfair and "seldom made against other all-graduate professions such as medicine, midwifery and physiotherapy".

Timely reminder

But that does not mean he has given the new system a clean bill of health.

While his report is fully supportive of the move to degree-level training, it has acknowledged there is a "theory-practice gap".

This, it said, has not happened because nurses are going to university.

Instead, it is claiming it is linked to the quality of mentoring they get while doing their placements - they spend half of their degree on the job - and in the first months of their working lives.

This is important. About a third of the nursing workforce is over 50.

The report should act as a timely reminder for the NHS as it looks to get more from staff in its productivity drive that the nurses of tomorrow cannot be marginalised.