From 2013, the minimum level for pre-registration courses for nurses will be raised from diploma to degree level, Health Minister Ann Keen announced yesterday (12 November 2009).
The degree courses will meet new standards developed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the professional regulator for nursing.
The Department of Health says this move will make nurses "better equipped to improve the quality of patient care."
This recommendation came after the four UK health departments asked the NMC to carry out a consultation and review of pre-registration nurse education.
The move is supported by all the key nursing bodies.
Health Minister Ann Keen said: "Nurses are the largest single profession within the health service, and are critical to the delivery of high-quality healthcare.
"By bringing in degree-level registration we can ensure new nurses have the best possible start to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
"Degree-level education will provide new nurses with the decision-making skills they need to make high-level judgements in the transformed NHS."
Chief Nursing Officer Christine Beasley said: "More young people than ever are studying for a degree and this will make nursing more attractive to them."
RCN Chief Executive Dr Peter Carter said: "This is an important and historic development, which the RCN has been in support of for many years.
"All nurses need to put quality care at the centre of what they do, and they also need extensive knowledge, analytical skills and experience to work in a range of settings."
He added: "This is not about restricting entry to the nursing profession, in fact we must ensure that the door to nursing continues to be as wide as possible."