Male nurses are ‘untapped solution’ to NHS staff crisis

Only about one in ten registered nurses in the UK are male, according to the latest figures from the Nursing & Midwifery Council. Photograph: Rex
Only about one in ten registered nurses in the UK are male, according to the latest figures from the Nursing & Midwifery Council. Photograph: Rex
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A leading nursing expert is calling for the recruitment talent pool to be widened to attract more men to work as student nurses.

Jacqueline Eccles, a lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Dundee, said men could be a “virtually untapped” resource to fill current record-high nursing vacancies in Scotland.

Official figures up to the end of June revealed a shortfall of 3,200 nurses and midwives, with increasing numbers of posts unfilled. A new survey on staffing levels conducted by the Royal College of Nursing revealed more than half of Scottish nurses believe staff shortage has compromised patient care and shifts are not being filled.

According to Eccles, the NHS in Scotland was spending £64,000 a day on agency nurses in 2016.

She believes automation is “sweeping away” many male-dominated jobs and large numbers of men would benefit from retraining in a rewarding, secure profession.

She said: “Studies show that patients see little difference between the care provided by male nurses and that provided by their female counterparts. Sometimes they feel that male nurses are gentler and more attentive, in particular when providing personal care.

“With current numbers, there are always going to be men cared for by female nurses, not because they wish to be but because there is no alternative.

“Bringing gender balance to a ward may also go some way to challenging the view of a nurse as a doctor’s handmaiden.”

Despite this, the perception that nursing is not for men persists and the experiences of those in nursing demonstrate how pervasive these negative stereotypes remain. One study reported that male nursing students felt significantly more visible on the wards than their female counterparts.

Last year just 11.4 per cent of registered nurses in the UK were male, according to figures from the Nursing & Midwifery Council – only a marginal increase from five years earlier, when they made up 11 per cent of the workforce.

Eccles added: “Male nurses encountered the prejudicial (and incorrect) view that they were either gay or sexual predators.

“The sexuality of females in male-dominated professions is rarely questioned but this appears to be a problem that persists for men in traditionally female-dominated roles.

“Men in nursing also reported that when being asked why they did not go to medical school, they underlined the societal attribution of the female gender to nursing as being an issue.”

She added that nurses are traditionally cast in the role of assistants, with male doctors taking a more important role in patient care.

She said: “Stereotypical representations of nurses in popular culture, from television shows to fancy-dress outfits, help no-one. Media representation has long been criticised by the nursing profession.

“Nurses are traditionally cast as the ‘helpers’, with male doctors swooping down to save the day.”

The University of Dundee has now launched events based around the #MenDoCare campaign that aims to develop innovative ways of promoting nursing to male applicants.

NHS staff nurse salaries start at around £22,000 and then rise to £28,000 in increments.