Nursing is undervalued both in status and pay and until both are enhanced the UK will continue to experience severe nursing shortages, according to a new study.
The study, commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing and carried out by the RCN and Oxford Brookes University, argues that the ‘old-fashioned view that caring for others is a feminine characteristic still persists in British society’.
This has contributed to the suppression of nurses’ wages and working conditions for generations, the study’s authors claim.
Some nine out of 10 nurses in the UK are women. Their weekly pay is on average £15.42 per hour – less than a third of that of doctors and dentists.
The study’s authors, from the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice and the Oxford School of Nursing and Midwifery – both at Oxford Brookes University – and the RCN, found that not only do nurses ‘routinely take on tasks that would have previously been the preserve of doctors’, but are constantly pushing forward advances in nursing practice. However, their pay does not reflect this.
Nursing is a graduate profession, with all new nurses required to have degrees, reflecting the high-level technical and clinically skilled nature of the work.
Dr Anne Laure Humbert, Director of the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice at Oxford Brookes University and one of the report’s authors, said: ‘Despite the growing complexity and technical nature of the work, as well as the difficult emotional labour it entails, “old-fashioned” perceptions persist of nursing as a job carried out by women for whom caring is “natural”, thus deskilling and devaluing those involved.
‘We see care as a naturally feminine skill or characteristic. This sits in direct opposition to the high level of skills and professionalisation required in contemporary nursing.’
The study – Gender and nursing as a profession: valuing nurses and paying them their worth – argues that the dire shortage of nurses should have forced an increase in wages to meet demand, but because most nurses are women, the profession continues to be under-valued.
One in nine nursing jobs are left vacant, while a third of the profession are due to retire by 2026.
The study provided a breakdown of the gender pay gap, which showed that, unlike the rest of the health sector, differences are largely the result of gender differences in working hours rather than sex discrimination.
Despite the fact that women make up 90% of all nurses they fill less than a third of senior positions and earn on average 17% less than men in similar positions per week.
Nurses from an ethnic minority background tend to earn 10% less than their white colleagues, when other factors are taken into consideration.
Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway, Research Fellow at Oxford Brookes University, said: ‘Concerns were also raised regarding the well-being of nurses, primarily because of high levels of work intensity and unsafe staffing levels.
‘In terms of career progression, increasing numbers are choosing flexibility over career development largely because of a lack of choice or control over working patterns or working hours, a paucity of family care provision and lack of support for training and development.
‘Nursing suffers from an image that fails to match the reality of a professional life defined by high level technical, emotional and cognitive skills.
‘This image, which is underpinned by gendered notions of nursing and nurses, will always stand in the way of any efforts to improve the standing and attractiveness of nursing as a career.’
Rachael McIlroy, RCN Senior Research Lead said: ‘This report is an important step in challenging and changing perceptions about nursing.
‘In reality, nursing is a complex and skilled profession yet too often nurses feel their voices are unheard and their value unrecognised.
‘We hope that this research will spark a conversation within the nursing profession, among nursing staff, employers, regulators and policy makers about the critical role played by the largest health care occupation in the country and how we better value it in terms of status and pay.
‘The RCN is ready to kick off this conversation about nursing and the impact of the workforce being mostly female and we hope our members and others will join in this exciting debate.’
- Every year over 1,100 people in England are at risk of missing out on the chance of getting their bowel cancer diagnosed early because of a severe NHS staff shortage, according to new calculations released by Cancer Research UK on Tuesday, proving that staff shortages make it more likely that cancer sufferers will die.
Sara Hiom, Cancer Research UK’s director of early diagnosis, said: ‘We’re concerned that NHS staff shortages are having a direct impact on the ability to diagnose more patients at an early stage – something that the Government committed to doing last year. People shouldn’t be slipping through the net.
‘Improvements to cancer screening in the UK need to be made quickly and safely to ensure the NHS can diagnose people earlier.
‘Even though NHS staff on the ground are doing everything they can to diagnose people early, the Government needs to back them up with significant investment to train and recruit more staff so that doctors, nurses and other specialists can diagnose more people at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful.’
Cancer Research UK has calculated that if the NHS in England referred people with the same hidden blood levels as Scotland, there could be an additional 2,000 colonoscopies each month in England.
Although many of these would not turn out to be cancer, the NHS in England does not have enough endoscopists – people who look inside the body with a camera – nurses and other specialist staff to handle this.
Already one in 10 diagnostic posts are vacant in England. And the demand for staff is rising. Around 363,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK but by 2035, that is likely to increase to around half a million people.
When bowel cancer is diagnosed at the earliest stage, as it can be through screening, more than 9 in 10 people survive their disease for at least five years. But when it is detected in the late stages, survival falls to less than 1 in 10.
FIT bowel screening is a more accurate way to test for early stage bowel cancer than the previous test, known as gFOBT. It was introduced in England last year and has been running in Scotland for two years.
The latest figures show that around 42,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer each year in the UK, which equates to more than 110 people every day
Around 16,300 people die from bowel cancer every year. And in England, more than half of bowel cancers with a known stage are diagnosed at a late stage.
Dr Ed Seward, consultant gastroenterologist and Cancer Research UK’s clinical adviser, said: ‘When we treat bowel cancer patients who were diagnosed at an early stage, we have curative treatments we can offer, including surgery.
‘It can be devastating to patients and their families when the disease is caught at a late stage, which is why the bowel screening programme is so important – finding cancers when they haven’t caused symptoms at all.
‘So we really don’t want to see patients missing out on a potentially life-saving opportunity.’