A new study on gender and pay in nursing hopes to shed light on the value and status of one of the most female-dominated professions in the UK.
The research, which is being undertaken by Oxford Brookes University, has been commissioned by the Royal College of Nursing with a report due out in April next year.
“The image of nursing hasn’t caught up with the actual job”
It will build on previous research highlighting the stresses and strains on the workforce as nursing teams struggle to cope with rising demand with fewer resources at their disposal.
According to the RCN, heavy workloads combined with a real terms drop in pay have contributed to worrying downward trends in wellbeing and morale with many nurses opting to leave the profession.
Kate Clayton-Hathway is a research fellow at the Centre for Diversity Policy Research and Practice (CDPRP) based at Oxford Brookes and is one of the co-investigators working on the study.
She said the study, which got under way in October, would draw on national labour force data as well as the findings from the RCN’s annual pay and conditions survey.
Meanwhile, new questions will be added to the RCN’s 2019 pay and conditions survey – which will take place early next year - in order to provide additional insight into areas such as work-life balance.
The research will also feature an extensive review of existing research and interviews with key people, including senior nurses, from organisations that work within or with the nursing profession.
“This research will help us to get beyond the statistics and tell the real story in nursing”
“What we’re interested in is the range of views about how the profession has developed over recent years and also where it might be going,” Ms Clayton-Hathway told Nursing Times.
She said the study would explore how various different factors played out in a female-dominated profession.
“Some of the challenges that the profession faces are the same as many other professions such as the rise of technology, ageing population and, of course, Brexit,” said Ms Clayton-Hathway.
“What we’re interested in is trying to get to the heart of what is different about nursing because it is a feminised profession,” she added.
She said one of the key messages so far was the fact the public image of nursing was outdated and did not match up to the reality of nursing practice today.
“What has come across from the small number of people we have spoken to so far is how much the profession has changed but the public and media – and perhaps government - perception of nursing are in the past,” she said.
“Nursing is a technical, high pressured, highly rewarding but very demanding profession but there is this kind of image still that it is very much about plumping up pillows – the image of nursing hasn’t caught up with the actual job to the extent where that is possibly detrimental to the profession,” Ms Clayton-Hathway told Nursing Times.
“This is an exciting opportunity to create new knowledge on the sustainability of nursing”
Anne Laure Humbert
Rachael McIlroy, employment relations researcher at the RCN, said recent findings from the NHS and other health and social care organisations showed there were “clear gender and ethnicity pay gaps in the nursing workforce”.
“Behind these headlines there is a complex story to be told about the real and perceived value and status of one of the most women-dominated workforces in the UK,” she said. “This research will help us to get beyond the statistics and tell the real story in nursing.”
CDPRP director Anne Laure Humbert said she hoped the study, which will including looking at the role of nursing leaders and institutions, would provide valuable insight into how to support the profession going forward.
“This is an exciting opportunity to create new knowledge on the sustainability of nursing as a profession and to better understand how to ensure that nurses are properly valued,” she said.