From 2013, the minimum entry-level requirement for nurses will be a three-year degree, the DoH has said. Details of course components will be put out to consultation early next year.
The aim is to improve the standing of the profession among patients and other clinicians, but groups such as Unison and the RCN's advanced nurse practitioner forum fear the plans could reduce nurses' practical experience and put off potential recruits.
Gail Adams, Unison head of nursing, said: ‘Some nurses are apprehensive about this because they fear it will lead to a drop in the number of registered nurses and a move to supervisory care, rather than being the deliverer of direct care.
‘Nurses won't thank us for this because, time and time again, our surveys show us that they get the greatest reward from the time they spend with their patients.'
Jenny Aston, chair of the RCN's advanced nurse practitioner forum, said: ‘A degree may not be the best way to improve training. I would like to see more of a return to the apprenticeship system that I trained with that had an emphasis on practical skills and patient care. This new training system must not lose sight of patient care.'
The DoH and the NMC, which will develop the degree courses, say they will enhance nurses' skills and prepare them for new ways of working.
Garth Long, NMC education adviser, said training would cover inter-professional working and work in different environments, not just hospitals.
It would also help nurses with ‘understanding technologies and being critical thinkers'.