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Design agency and trust apologise for error over ‘sexist’ nurse job adverts


A design agency and hospital trust have apologised after two nursing recruitment adverts were used in error that went on to attract heavy criticism on social media for being sexist.

The two adverts were developed by Strawberry Design for Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, as part of its “remarkable people” nurse recruitment campaign.

“I would like to apologise to the individual nurses concerned”

Jonathan Leafe

They featured two of the trust’s current emergency department staff, newly-qualified nurses Emma Gray and Izzy Davis.

However, the trust noted that what had “caught the attention of social media users, print and broadcast media over the past few days” were the captions accompanying the pictures.

One caption stated: “As soon as Emma looked at John she knew it was serious. A full fracture of the tibia.” And the other said: “Before lunch, Izzy made Roy’s heart flutter. It’d stopped for 10 minutes.”

The adverts, which appeared in the healthcare management publication Health Service Journal on 16 May, were greeted by a torrent of criticism on the social media site Twitter.

It is the second time in two months that a trust has come in for criticism for its approach to nurse recruitment.

In April Wigan, Wrightington and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust withdrew an advert of three smiling nurses behind another lying on a hospital trolley, as reported by Nursing Times.

Regarding the new adverts, Victoria Daley, deputy chief nurse Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “Oh dear, have we gone back half a century? Will it be Carry On Nurse characters next?”

Picking up a similar theme, Dr Iain Beardsell, a consultant in emergency medicine at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Seriously? Where are they hoping they’ll work? The 1970s? Are we not in more enlightened times?”

“Our focus is on the welfare of the individual staff members first and foremost”

Mike Wright

Elaine Maxwell, associate professor in leadership at London South Bank University, questioned whether the Yorkshire trust used “Mills & Boon style ads for other staff”, and whether it only wanted to employ “young blonde female nurses”.

Dr Lynne Stobbart, a nurse and senior research associate at Newcastle University, described the adverts as “patronizing, demeaning, insulting and offensive”.

Meanwhile, Professor June Girvin, former pro vice chancellor and executive dean of the health and life sciences faculty at Oxford Brookes University, was moved to write a blog titled “50shadesofHey”.

June Girvin

June Girvin

June Girvin

In it she noted: “Gender prejudices are alive and well in public images of nursing, and these prejudices are evidenced in portrayals of nurses characterised as sexual playthings, beautiful young and sexy, defying danger to find romance.

“It’s one of nursing’s biggest issues professionally and it is deeply troubling that employers should exploit this as a recruitment tactic,” she said.

On Monday, the trust issued a statement apologising for any upset caused, including to the nurses in the adverts, and laying the blame firmly with Strawberry Design for using unapproved captions.

In the statement, the trust’s executive chief nurse, Mike Wright, described the incident as “deeply regrettable”.

Mr Wright said: “It is deeply saddening to us that two professional people that have been supportive enough to front a campaign to try and attract more people to work here are now the focus of national media attention for the wrong reasons.

“This is not a position they should find themselves in,” he said. “The nurses involved are consummate professionals with exemplary employment records and we are very proud of them and the work that they do.



The Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals adverts that recieved criticism

“We would like to reiterate that the campaign wording which sparked the debate related to prototypes that were never used,” he said. “When they were presented to us, we rejected them immediately.

“They have never been used alongside images of the nurses concerned in any advertising campaign run by Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust,” stated Mr Wright.

He added: “The visuals that were used in the media and social media were released to the Health Service Journal in error by our design agency, Strawberry, without our knowledge or approval. Strawberry has apologised unreservedly for this mistake, which is deeply regrettable.”

However, Mr Wright attacked “wholly unacceptable” criticism on social media aimed at Ms Gray and Ms Davis themselves.

“Not only is this now calling into question the aims and intentions of the campaign, but also the judgement of the nurses involved, the latter of which we find wholly unacceptable as all of it is untrue,” he said.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust

’Sexist’ nurse job ads were used by mistake, says trust

Mike Wright

“The nurses have been subjected to significantly inappropriate comments about themselves in the media and social media,” he said. “Our focus is on the welfare of the individual staff members first and foremost. As such, we will provide no further comment on this subject.”

Jonathan Leafe, chair of Strawberry, said: “I would like to apologise to the individual nurses concerned, to Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, and to anyone who has been offended by the campaign visuals in circulation that were not meant for publication.

“The trust rejected these options at the development stage of the campaign, however we made a mistake when we supplied these to the Health Service Journal, and this is very regrettable on our part,” he said.

“At no stage did we intend to cause offence or distress to anyone involved with the campaign or the wider public,” he added.

Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust

‘Sexist’ nurse job ads were used by mistake, says trust

Source: Strawberry Design

The final intended design of the advert, as approved by the trust, which appeared in Nursing Times


Readers' comments (6)

  • Probably advertising a role as Sister or Matron is sexist. Better to have gender neutral job titles

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  • How petty and soooo politically correct rubbish

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  • What other professions use gender specific job titles?

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  • nowadays, actor.

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  • The final advert appears misleading. Plenty of breaks? Are they serious? I appreciate it is meant to also mean plenty of fractures but please!
    As a nurse in London in the good old days (not) of the pinstripe uniform, starched collar, black tights, lacy hat and cape, I regularly endured lewd comments from passing males on the way back to the nurses home. A change of uniform (why don't we wear cool, loose, practical scrubs? ) has not resulted in a change in attitude. We will NEVER be treated or viewed as equals in any profession until our outward appearance is equal to our knowledge, experience, professionalism and status.Why do we have to sweat in thick poly-cotton tunics whilst doctors wear, well, no uniform at all? Because it puts us in our place, that's why. Open your eyes nurses and start demanding equal respect. The trust would never have run a recruitment campaign for doctors in the same demeaning way.

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  • I believe a uniform promotes Nurses, as most people have respect for nurses, male of female. Light weight cotton is easy to wear and launder. I think we should look what we are, ie professional caring people

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