Leading Article: How to recruit more nurses

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YOUNG BRITISH people are staying away from nursing in droves. Moreover, half the people in the profession are over 40, storing up problems for the future as well as making it hard to see how the Health Secretary, Frank Dobson, will be able to keep his promise of 15,000 extra nurses over the next three years.

Pay is certainly important. But it has never been the reason why people join the profession. Among the explanations of why young women - and nursing is 93 per cent women - are no longer so interested is the explosion in the choices that they now have (the same also applies to teaching). The huge increase in university places has meant that the traditional route from A-levels straight to nursing college is no longer a prestige option to a generation that often appears to feel that service of any kind diminishes the self.

One solution would be to recruit a larger proportion of men (of any age). This would make sense for several reasons.

First, it would far harder to ghetto-ise the profession in terms of pay. The recent statistics about men being promoted before women in nursing despite their tiny numbers is proof that all the old gender/pay dynamics still exist. The health secretary's promise that he will find ways of improving nurses' pay in the coming months will test out whether the nursing profession is also subject to the law of supply and demand.

Male unemployment is once again on the rise, offering more potential candidates to compensate for the women who have gone elsewhere. Also the work performed by nurses is becoming more technical This should make the job more attractive for prestige reasons.

There has never been an NHS drive specifically to recruit men. Perhaps now is the time to have one.