Nursing is undervalued in status and pay, finds poll

A Royal College of Nursing study has stressed that nursing is undervalued in status and pay, and that until both are enhanced, the UK will continue to experience severe nursing shortages.

Conducted by researchers at Oxford Brookes University, the research further argues that the ‘old-fashioned view that caring for others is a feminine characteristic still persists in British society’, with the authors claiming that such a view has contributed to the suppression of nurses’ wages and working conditions for generations.

The study, Gender and Nursing as a Profession: Valuing Nurses and Paying Them Their Worth, also 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.

Despite making up 90 per cent of all nurses, women fill less than a third of senior positions and earn on average 17 per cent less than men in similar positions per week.

Anne Laure Humbert, author report, 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.”

Nine out of 10 nurses in the UK are women. Their weekly pay is on average £15.42 per hour which is less than a third of that of doctors and dentists. The study provides a breakdown of the gender pay gap, which shows that, unlike the rest of the health sector, differences are largely the result of gender differences in working hours rather than sex discrimination.

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. We hope our members and others will join in this exciting debate.”

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