The government has just announced that nursing will become an all-graduate profession from 2013. I don’t want to go down the route of discussing whether degrees are appropriate for nurses, an issue about which readers of this blog might have strong feelings. The point is, what has this got to do with the government? It might be thought that the government employs all nurses. That is certainly a moot point – NHS trusts are independent employers. But, even if the government were the indirect employer of all nurses, it does not take individual employment decisions. It should be for employers to decide what qualifications their employees have.
Now, it is perfectly legitimate for individual employers (trusts and so on) to say that they want everybody to have a degree, but nursing is supposed to be a profession. There is a Royal College of Nursing that is quite distinct from the nursing trades unions (even if it often behaves like one). As such, normal practice in most areas of professional services would be for employers to say that they want to employ professionally qualified nurses, with the qualifications being determined by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). If the RCN then tries to restrict entry to the profession too much, employers will no doubt try to employ more ancillary staff and fewer nurses, or think about employing different types of staff with different types of qualification. Competing professional bodies might even develop.
But the amazing thing about today’s announcement is that it is warmly welcomed by the RCN. In other words, the RCN warmly welcomes the government nationalising its profession and taking over its duties for determining how nurses become accepted into the profession.
As it happens, I am an actuary. I don’t want to get into debates about the relative academic difficulty of actuarial science versus nursing. Such debates are futile and silly. The point is that the actuarial profession is not a graduate profession, and the government has certainly not decreed it as such. The profession sets its own exams. The actuarial profession would be entitled at any time to require a degree. And employers, of course, are entitled to hire people who are members of the profession, or not, as they please. But the idea that the state should decree that every qualified actuary should qualify by degree is bonkers. The profession may decree that, but, once the state decrees it, the profession no longer exists.