Health secretary Frank Dobson has proposed a new grading structure for nurses in a bid to make the nursing profession more attractive.

He told the Commons health select committee last week that the present grading system is 'outmoded and very rigid'.

It denied nurses and midwives career progression, and there were too many grades, with too many artificial ceilings.

Mr Dobson proposed a system of three nurse grades instead of the present six: registered nurse practitioner, advanced nurse practitioner and specialist nurse practitioner.

He told MPs: 'In that system staff would be rewarded for the work they do and the responsibility they carry.

'We would have to negotiate with the staff, obviously, but we think there is a great deal of common ground between us.'