Health minister Ann Keen has accused media commentators of sexism following media coverage about nursing becoming a graduate-only entry profession.
The government last week rubber-stamped plans for nursing in England to become an all-graduate profession by 2013. It follows recommendation of the move by the Nursing and Midwifery Council in September 2008.
But Ms Keen launched a strongly worded attack on some commentators who said nurses did not need degrees and should instead focus on “caring”, saying she believed the comments were motivated by sexism.
Speaking to the Chief Nursing Office summit in Newcastle last week she said: “I have really had enough of this. Do not let them get away with patronising us.”
She told Nursing Times afterwards that the perception would not be the same if nurses were not mainly female. She said: “This is a personal view. We are predominantly a female profession and I wonder about the status of nursing had it been all men. It is about ‘women’s work’.”
Chief nursing officer for NHS England Dame Christine Beasley also told Nursing Times she thought “there is some truth” in Ms Keen’s accusation of sexism.
“There is still an issue that because nursing has some of those feminine caring skills, people think anyone can do it. It’s a very sad reflection of a male dominated media,” said Dame Christine.
Highlighting examples of why a degree education was important for enhancing modern nursing, she said it was not limited to complex technical procedures.
She said: “It isn’t just wizzy techy skills, it’s the ability to sit with someone with schizophrenia and talk to them, or with a new mum who could potentially abuse their child.”
Dame Christine also acknowledged that nurse leaders had to be sensitive when discussing the move to an all graduate entry profession, because they did not want existing nurses without degrees to feel they were “not good enough” – something Dame Christine said was “not true at all.”
At the summit, she announced the publication of a guide to nursing careers designed to show the opportunities for existing non-graduates, for example taking further qualifications to degree level. It will be made available on the NHS Careers website in coming weeks.
Department of Health programme director for Modernising Nursing Careers Chris Caldwell said: “When we introduced graduate nursing one of the challenges was the way that would interface with the existing.
“The existing workforce may feel a bit undervalued. We want to say they are essential – they have degree level experience and are often thinking like a graduate.”