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Sexualising nurses could lead to attacks on staff, warns Unison


Portraying nurses in a sexually provocative way could contribute to attacks on nursing staff, Unison head of nursing Gail Adams has warned.

Last week a row erupted over a Worcestershire bus company advert featuring a “sexy” nurse wearing a PVC uniform.

Ms Adams said sexualising the image of nursing could “manifest” in physical and verbal attacks on nurses in the workplace, or even on their way home.

She said: “People are happy to sexualise the image of nursing but are then surprised when nurses are attacked or have lewd or indecent comments made towards them. The profession is not boring or ‘stuck in the mud’ but portraying nurses in this way is unacceptable.”


Readers' comments (9)

  • I do not think this image in and of itself will lead to attacks. The sexy nurse image in ann summers reflects no more on my professional image than the sexy firemans outfit or a stripper in a policemans outfit reflects on their respective careers.

    There is however a problem with the basic image and perception of Nursing and Nurses itself, but that is a different argument.

    Like I said this image will not lead to attacks, what WILL, and HAS lead to a lot of attacks in the past is the perception that Nurses are percieved as weak, potential victims by some people. Many people know they can get away with behaving in any way they choose in hospitals, and any staff CANNOT do anything at all back to defend themselves without jeapordising their careers, this is just a basic fact. Despite all the basic de-escalation and breakaway techniques we are taught, if any one of us actually needed to use them you can almost guaruantee that the NMC witchhunters will be out in force.

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  • ...Totally agree with above!
    Haven't we become 'pink and fluffy'?
    Good Lord, no wonder this country is in a state! Keep calm and carry on!

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  • At last a voice of reason - not you Mike - Gail Adams nursing head of Unison. Unfortunately being a woman she will either be scoffed at or just ignored. If she were a man she might be listened to a bit more. This is at least the third post on this issue recently and we are obviously no further ahead sadly. Everyone is missing the point - sexualising ANY serious profession is in effect trivialising it and those in it. I don't care about strippers or Ann b****y Summers, I care about the future of nursing and its deteriorating image. I was sexually assaulted as a student nurse and although I'm not saying it wouldn't have happened if I wasn't a nurse these images don't help. Just because it has always been that way does not make it right or acceptable. It's not. End of.

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  • Anonymous | 24-Mar-2010 9:36 am, I am truly sorry about what about to you, any attack, especially of that nature is wholly deplorable and should never in any circumstance be allowed to happen. I HOPE the person responsible is being dealt with as seriously as the law will allow in the criminal courts, but knowing the NHS and the system I doubt this is true?

    But - and I mean no offence when I say this - I would argue that this attack and many others like it would probably have happened regardless of any 'sexy' image in advertisements or whatever. Most attacks occur precisely because of the reasons I stated above (apart from of course those patients who can't help their actions, which personally I still think is no excuse).

    Now as for the state of the professions image I wholeheartedly agree with you. It is in a shocking state and needs to be sorted out urgently. There are however much more important factors to adress rather than this. The fact that we are a highly educated, regulated and professional MEDICAL profession in our own right is ignored as we are referred to as Doctors handmaidens or assistants or simply bedmakers, the fact that we are becoming increasingly autonomous in our professional practice is ignored, most patients simply don't know or understand the skills that we have and the tasks we perform.

    Now, the 'sexy' image (or the male equivalent of the gay effeminate, which I have heard all the jokes on) is a very small part of this I agree, but only a very small part. If all the other issues like I have said above amongst others are adressed, then ann summers selling a sexy nurse outfit to hen parties won't impact on our professionalism at all. The fact that it is being mentioned now only goes to show how shattered and disparate our professional image is.

    As for it leading to attacks? I'm sorry I just don't think so. And I am not disagreeing with her or scoffing at her because she is a woman, as your frankly insulting comment suggests people might, I am disagreeing with her based on opinions and views on violent crimes I formed during my criminology degree.

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  • Utter rubbish! To say that sexualising the image of nursing could lead to attacks. On what is this assumption based? That all men are sex maniacs when stimulated......erm hang on!

    I do agree with you on the gender issue around the union official though. Nursing's main problem is that it is a female dominated profession! Cos there is no way a male dominated profession would put up with the crap nurses do.

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  • Mike with respect you have completely misinterpreted what I said. I was very impressed with the start of your reply when you appeared to be very empathatic of my experience. However as I said I was a student nurse at the time - over 20 years ago. So it is past tense not present tense. You state you agree about improving the image of nursing yet don't feel that the 'sexy image' has a big part to play in this. I was simply saying that ANY negative image is not good on the whole. It is mainly women who are stereotyped in this way and mainly women who are in this profession. I just find the snigger, snigger attitude of these types of advertising incredibly childish. Hen parties are one thing but actively portraying nurses in a sexually provocative way is another thing entirely. And having an opinion is not 'frankly insulting'. I certainly don't agree with everything you say but that is the spirit of debate.

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  • Anonymous | 25-Mar-2010 2:59 pm, okay, you raise a few points here so I will deal with one at a time if I may?

    First of all, I am all for debate, I love it. I will respect your opinions even if I disagree with them and debate or argue with them. However I still feel that your notion that I or anyone else would simply dismiss her arguments solely on the basis of her gender is insulting, I would hope that I or anyone else here would be assumed to be a little more enlightened than that, and assume that I disagree with her because her argument is illogical and not based in any way on fact.

    Second, I did not just appear to be empathetic, I truly am. No nurse, student or qualified, 20 years ago or today, should have to put up with any kind of sexual assault. It does not matter what grade you were or when it happened, apart from the fact that I should have written I hope they were dealt with in the past tense? The sentiment is the same, if not the semantics.

    Now, as for the sexualisation of the nursing image. You are right it is only women in Nursing who are portrayed in this way in a POSITIVE light (i.e. sexy), like I said before just look at the gay effeminate image for the male counterpart, that is ALWAYS portrayed in the negative. If you are saying that it is only ever women are portrayed in a sexualised light, then that too I am afraid is wrong, just look at the way your female colleagues will drool and fight to get out of the door if firemen are ever called into the hospital for example!

    Now is the sexy nurse a negative image? For some undoubtedly, for others they don't mind so much. They can remove the 'sexy image' from the profession, just as they know a fireman or a soldier etc are true professionals despite their sexy image and are worthy of respect.

    The problem Nursing has is that some people cannot see beyond the sexy image precisely because we do not have a collective professional image behind it. Nursing is broken, disparate and spread out to the four winds. We do not have a collective identity. Like I said earlier, if all this existed, as it does for the military or the fire service or the medical profession etc, then the image of the sexy Nurse will not matter because people will be able to recognise that it is completely seperate from the true image that we should have.

    Finally as for this argument, I stand by my point that these images in and of themselves will not lead to attacks. There is a whole raft of evidence and studies that have been done on violent crime and violent offenders that will back me up on this. If we are talking about violent rapists and their views on women and pornography, then that is a whole different matter that will lead to another debate. But in and of itself, no, they just won't.

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  • Thirty years in nursuing and it appears that we have barely advanced a step. We are still percieved as objects rather than professionals despite all efforts to proffesionalise us. We have more autonomy, more responsibility, more knowledge and qualifications than ever and we are still reduced to the state osf 'sexy' bimbo nurses. And for what? A hackneyed advertisement of a stereotype. You have to feel pity for the advertising gurus if, after all this time, that is the best they can come up with!

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  • Mike I'm sorry but because of the overall general image and views of women even today I still feel if Gail Adams were a man she would be taken more seriously. You don't have research data to disprove me nor I you, so we will just have to agree to disagree on that one I'm afraid! I don't think you did respect my opinion as you DID disagree with me but still stated my opinion was 'frankly insulting'. You either respect my opinion, agree or not, or you don't. I don't want to be treated as 'sexy' when I am at work trying also to be taken seriously. It's demeaning. If you want to treat me as sexy outside of work fine. Why do you presume all women would find being treated as being sexy POSITIVE as you say? In that case you are as presumptive as you say I am. Why do you think "some people cannot see beyond the sexy image" of nursing? Because it is reinforced by stupid adverts!!! I have read studies and evidence like your good self on the image of women and its negative effects, and ads portraying nurses in tight PVC low cut uniform is not good. I can see you and I do not see eye to eye - but it's been nice duelling with you!

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