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The real (and sexist) reason nurses don’t get the respect they deserve

Posted by
Hollie Richardson
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Nursing gender pay gap.

Nursing is seen as a “feminine characteristic” in society – and that’s the reason nurses aren’t getting the respect they deserve, according to a new report. 

You don’t need us to tell you that nurses do one of the toughest jobs out there. Recent figures showed that 305 nurses have died by suicide over the last seven years. This led to the shadow health secretary to call for an urgent enquiry into the support given to nurses.

It would be fair to say the NHS is in the midst of a nursing crisis. In 2017, job applications from EU nurses – who are crucial to the running of the NHS – dropped a massive 96% after the Brexit vote. In fact, more overworked and underpaid UK nurses and midwives are now leaving nursing than joining it.

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Facing a perfect storm of government spending cuts, reduced numbers of community support staff and an ageing population, our National Health Service as a whole is under extraordinary strain.

So, you’d think the nurses who care for us every day would get the respect they deserve.

But a new report has found that nurses are undervalued because the sector is predominantly made up of female nurses who are paid significantly less than male nurses.

nhs
Around 9/10 nurses in the UK are women and they take home on average 17% less than men in similar roles every week.

The study, conducted by the Royal College of Nursing and Oxford Brookes University, suggests this is because there is an “old-fashioned view that caring for others is a feminine characteristic still persists in British society”. 

Basically, because women’s nursing skills are undervalued and underpaid (it’s just a natural feminine skill, right?), the female-led sector doesn’t get the respect it deserves. 

This is despite the fact that it also reports how nurses “routinely take on tasks that would have previously been the preserve of doctors”.

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According to the findings, weekly pay is on average £15.42 per hour – less than a third of that of doctors and dentists. Around 9/10 nurses in the UK are women, female nurses make up less than a third of senior positions.

Dr Anne Laure Humbert, one of the co-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.

She added: “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.”

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Speaking about the current limitations on improving things for nurses, Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway, research fellow at Oxford Brookes University, said: “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, Royal College of Nursing’s senior research lead, also said: “We hope that this research will spark a conversation within the nursing profession, among nursing staff, employers, regulators and policymakers about the critical role played by the largest healthcare occupation in the country and how we better value it in terms of status and pay.”

Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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