NO ONE would argue that nursing is not a vital job and one that demands a high level of training. But, in adding his voice to those who believe that nursing degrees are unnecessary, UK Independence Party MEP Mike Hookem is not denigrating nurses at all.
On the contrary, it is precisely because nurses are crucial to a properly functioning NHS that answers have to be found to the present shortage.
With 24,000 unfilled vacancies, a 20 per cent drop in applications for graduate courses and EU nurses leaving Britain because of uncertainties over Brexit, it is perfectly valid to question whether nurses should be spending four years studying when they could be involved in full-time work.
At the very least, the content and ethos of these courses should be put up for public debate.
Is the amount of time spent on nursing theories, for example, truly worthwhile? How relevant are these to nursing practice and to the daily interaction with patients that is such an important part of the job?
After all, the type of patient neglect revealed in the Stafford Hospital scandal was a horrifying reminder that all the nursing qualifications in the world are no substitute for basic common sense and a simple understanding of patient needs.
The Royal College of Nursing, which has persistently pushed for nursing to be regarded as a more academic subject, will not be happy for such matters to be debated. And clearly, the abolition of nursing degrees is not, in itself, an answer to the nursing shortage.
But a potential crisis of this magnitude demands that a range of options be considered. And, when it comes to improving patient care, no subject should be off limits.