Nurses should not be referred to as sisters or matrons because it puts men off joining the profession, it was claimed yesterday.
The language used within nursing was outdated and ‘very female’, a union boss warned.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the NHS needed more male nurses but men were being discouraged from choosing it as a career.
She called for more ‘Charlies’ to join – a reference to male nurse Charlie Fairhead in long-running BBC soap Casualty.
Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the NHS needed more male nurses but men were being discouraged from choosing it as a career. She called for more ‘Charlies’ to join – a reference to male nurse Charlie Fairhead in Casualty
Miss Davies even suggested there should be nursing fancy dress costumes for boys as well as girls to eradicate gender-specific roles. The diverse role of nursing should be championed, promoting its place in prisons and mental health services as well as in hospitals, to banish the image that it is ‘woman’s work’, she said.
But calls for a targeted campaign to attract more male nurses were rebuffed by RCN members at the union’s annual congress in Belfast yesterday over fears it would discriminate against women.
Members dismissed offering men incentives, arguing that they already occupy more than half of the top nursing roles despite making up just a tenth of the workforce.
Speaking after the vote, Miss Davies said it was important to lose the stereotype that only women make good nurses.
Terms such as ‘ward sister’ and ‘matron’ were probably outdated, she said, adding that they had already been scrapped in some parts of the UK.
‘We still use the word “ward sister” because there was a vote on that at some point,’ she said. ‘But they’re not called “ward sisters” in Scotland, everyone is called a “charge nurse” regardless of your sex and that’s another good debate … Lots of the language in nursing generally is very female but we do have matrons who are men.
‘But that’s another whole debate because there are some men who don’t mind being called “matron”. Otherwise you get “male matron” and then it’s discriminatory.’ Campaigners say that men are an untapped resource that could help to fill the 38,000 current vacancies.
Health bosses claim society ‘perpetuates images that frequently portray and readily accept nursing as a role carried out by women and one that men simply do not fit into’. Men account for only 74,580 of the UK’s 690,000 registered nurses.
Nurses should not be referred to as sisters or matrons because it puts men off joining the profession, it was claimed yesterday
Miss Davies called for TV producers to change public perceptions by creating more male nurse characters like Charlie Fairhead in Casualty.
‘We need more Charlies but shown in lots of places, in the community, in different settings – I think that would help,’ she said. ‘They did have a guy who was a nurse in EastEnders a few years ago. We need more of that to help change the public’s perspective. We need more realistic interpretations of what nurses do, especially in those sorts of soap operas.
‘We’ve moved a long way in terms of childcare for instance – we have many more fathers that are taking over the role of caring for children and that’s become quite accepted. But it’s those nurturing and caring roles generally [that] are typically seen as a female-type role. We’re moving quite a long way in that but with nursing is still a bit of a hang up. People often refer to “she”.’
Some hospitals in England have already abolished the job title ‘sister’.
Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly NHS Trust and Birmingham Women’s Hospital changed the title to ‘ward manager’ to acknowledge the fact that men also carry out the role. But last night critics said it was nonsense to suggest these titles would stop men from applying for nursing jobs.
Conservative MP Peter Bone said: ‘I really don’t think this is putting anyone off. I don’t think this political correctness helps anyone. Most patients like to see sisters and matrons in hospital. I don’t see why males can’t be called this.
‘When people are trying to get better, they just want to be reassured, and having sisters and matrons on wards does this.’
Joyce Robins, of Patient Concern, said: ‘How ever you look at it, it’s always going to be a job that appeals more to women. It is changing a bit but I don’t think it will happen overnight.’
The NHS is struggling to recruit and retain nurses. Hospitals are spending around £2.4billion a year on agency and temporary staff because of shortages, research has estimated.
Last year, for the first time, more midwives and nurses left the NHS than joined it. The number leaving has risen by more than half in four years.