Addressing the RCN Congress on 16 May, Sir Keith recognised that most nurses are doing a good job and that no nurse comes into the NHS with the intention of delivering poor care.
But he said that examples of poor care are "cropping up far too often."
Talking to the audience specifically about the work of the Dignity Commission, he recognised that nurses have had a hard reception in the press recently. He said: "Every time we hear a harrowing incident of undignified care involving nursing, some commentators will trot out the same line: .....that nurses are too qualified to care, or too posh to wash. Well let me tell you, the Dignity Commission thought this suggestion was nonsense.
High degree of clinical skill
"The myth of the over-qualified nurse is rooted in the wrong-headed notion that caring for older people does not require a high degree of clinical skill.
"As you will know, looking after older people in a compassionate way is not simply a matter of common sense and sympathy. On the contrary, older people are more likely to be suffering from a number of medical conditions which require skilled nursing to manage their care and their complex needs.
Academic qualifications and compassionate values
"Universities and employers need to do more work to make sure that current and future staff, not only have the relevant academic qualifications, but also the compassionate values needed to provide patient centred ...dignified care.
"We must also ensure that the workforce of tomorrow is trained to adapt to the shift from curative to palliative care for a large proportion of the patients we care for.
HCAs and the care home sector
"The [Dignity Commission] Commissioners believe that Government also needs to review the status and role of NHS healthcare assistants (HCAs) and those working in the care home sector.
"We have called on the Government to set minimum training standards for HCAs and to look at registration and regulation.
Care Quality Forum
"We have also asked them to establish a Care Quality Forum to look at all aspects of care home staffing, including issues of status and pay, qualifications, recruitment, retention, development, monitoring and regulation.
"In the longer term, we argued that the profession should consider working towards a College of Care to lead on these issues."
He told the audience that he and the Commission have "heard loud and clear" that getting the right mix and numbers of staff on wards is important to delivering dignified care. But he urged that the debate about staffing levels does not overshadow the importance of getting day-to-day care right.
Grateful for RCN support
Sir Keith thanked nurses and the RCN for their involvement and support at every stage of the Commission's work, saying: "The RCN embraced the opportunity to give evidence to the Commission and to be part of the drive for improved dignity in the care for older people.
"We say in the Commission’s report that if we get dignity right for older people, we get it right for everyone."
In an address that was very well received, he asked the audience to help ensure the Dignity Commission’s report does not sit on a shelf gathering dust and work towards a major cultural shift in the way everyone thinks about care.
Watch Sir Keith's speech live
Watch Sir Keith's speech on the RCN Congress website.
Visit our Partnership on Dignity in Care web pages for more information about the joint NHS Confederation, Age UK and Local Government Association Dignity Commission.