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Hancock: Public perception of nursing 50 years out of sync with reality

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that changing the public perception of nursing is important for bringing about a culture change within the NHS.

During his keynote speech at the CNO Summit in Birmingham, Mr Hancock challenged nurses to help him ‘change the culture within the NHS’, in return for his full support to tackle ‘the challenges that I can tackle’.

He described nurses as ‘mission critical’ to lead that change in culture, but said that part of the problem is that the too many members of the public have a perception of nursing that is ‘half a century’ out of sync with the modern reality.

Speaking to delegates, he said: ‘We need to do more to make sure society values nursing. Among too many people, nursing is still seen as the Florence Nightingale profession – ladies with sponges and bandages.

‘That is important but it’s the most basic level of nursing. I think the image of nursing in too many places is half a century out of sync with the modern-day reality. We need to talk about the realities, possibilities and opportunities of a career in nursing – equal in challenge to being a doctor or an engineer, a profession for young men and women to aspire to.’

He paid tribute to the work of new CNO for England Dr Ruth May’s work in attempting to ‘challenge and raise the perception’ of the profession.

Mr Hancock added that the ‘relentless debate’ about the struggles that people rarely get to hear about the opportunities a career in nursing offers.

‘I tell you this straight: let’s not talk down the profession either. I fear that sometimes and in particular in the public debate, people talk so much about the struggles and the difficulties,’ he said. ‘I get that there are serious challenges in the NHS, but we focus on them so relentlessly in the public debate that we rarely hear about the possibilities and the opportunities and we need to hear far more about them. Now, of course, we must tackle those challenges too. And I will do my part and I know you’ve heard this week that the NHS leadership will do their part too.’