In a positive keynote speech at the chief nursing officer (CNO) for England’s summit today, Mr Hancock called for action to bring the image of nursing up-to-date.
“We need more nurses leading NHS trusts”
Echoing points made by CNO Dr Ruth May in her address yesterday, Mr Hancock highlighted how tackling “outdated” stereotypes in nursing could help address the gender disparity.
“I think that the image of nursing in too many places is half century out of sync with the modern-day reality,” said Mr Hancock.
“Nursing is an aspirational career for girls and boys – caring, compassionate and highly, highly skilled,” he told the audience of senior nurses.
“We need to talk about the reality and the possibilities and the opportunities of a career in nursing,” he said. “Equal to a challenge of being a doctor or an engineer, a profession for young men and women to aspire to join.”
Mr Hancock namechecked prominent nurse workforce researcher Professor Alison Leary, referencing a recent study she has led around gender and nursing.
“She said that she thinks if society were to understand that nursing is a knowledge intensive occupation it would help nursing be yet more valued and attract men and women into the profession and I whole-heartedly agree,” he said.
The health secretary, who said the “root of my admiration” for the profession came from his nurse grandmother, called for more nurses in leadership roles including running NHS trusts.
”We need more nurses as leaders; we need more nurses leading NHS trusts, inspiring others to aim higher, empowering staff through empathetic leadership,” said the secretary of state.
He went as far as saying he believed nurses often made better leaders than doctors, because they understood that caring for their staff was “mission critical” to patient care and that “hierarchy can be a hinderance to improvement”.
“Nursing is an aspirational career for girls and boys”
Meanwhile, Mr Hancock claimed that in some NHS orgnisations nurses were still treated as highly inferior to their medical colleagues.
“I find it shocking that in my grandmother’s day nurses were expected to stand up when a doctor enters a room, but worse I find that that is still the case in some archaic, antiquated corners of the NHS and I want it to stop,” he told delegates.
On the first day of the summit, NHS England Simon Stevens pledged to reverse cuts to continuous professional development (CPD) funds and Mr Hancock said he was “delighted” by this commitment.
“One of the things I have heard repeatedly is about the motivational power of CPD,” he said. “And I know there’s not enough of it and believe you me as a former skills minister, my first job in government, I believe this very strongly.”
Mr Hancock said he had been “hammering home” to importance of continuous learning and education since taking on the health secretary job, adding that restoring CPD was “vital to valuing and retaining our nursing staff”.
He recognised the need to boost nurse recruitment and indicated that undergraduate nurse training places would be further expanded through the NHS workforce implementation plan.
International recruitment was also cited by Mr Hancock as a key priority adding that “after Brexit we must and we will continue to welcome nurses from around the world into the NHS”.
In addition, Mr Hancock reinforced the closer working relationship between the CNO and the government by stating that Dr May was a ”valued and vital part of my team” who was frequently in his office fighting the corner of nurses.
It comes after the controversial removal of the CNO role from the Department of Health as a result of the reforms of the NHS in 2012.