Men put off nursing by 'stigma' of the job

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A new category of health worker should be created because men and members of the ethnic minorities, particularly Asians, do not want to be called nurses, according to a report published today by the Royal College of Physicians.

The report found that while men and people from ethnic minorities may be keen to become doctors and pharmacists, they believe there is a stigma attached to being a "nurse".

The study says that the growing demands on the health service cannot be met by its existing one million staff and that new roles must be created to attract extra workers.

It recommends the creation of a "healthcare practitioner" to work alongside doctors and nurses, undertaking the more technical tasks.

Anyone of any age orbackground could apply for training which would last two to three years, compared with three to four years to become a nurse. Proposed duties include assessing and treating emergency patients, ordering tests, admitting and discharging patients and prescribing some drugs.

The report, Hospital doctors under pressure: new roles for the healthcare workforce, cites an unnamed second-hand car salesman from the Midlands who was trained to take and analyse electrocardiograms of the heart. He became so proficient that he was able to set up a cardiac monitoring clinic for the NHS.

At the launch of the report today, Professor Sir George Alberti, president of the college, is expected to say that more flexible use of NHS staff, including the creation of healthcare practitioners, is essential if the NHS is to deliver results from the extra £2bn investment announced in last month's Budget.

There is a shortage of nurses throughout the country, especially in London and the South-east, and although 1,000 extra medical student places are being created, it takes 15 years to train a consultant.

Sir George will say that any improvement in the performance of the NHS will depend on its speed in recruiting extra staff who can ease the workload of existing doctors and nurses.

But ministers remain to be convinced of the need for a new kind of worker. Although a similar proposal was floated in a Department of Health report on workforce planning last week, ministers question whether the tasks envisaged for the proposed healthcare practitioner could not be handed to nurses.

Earlier this month, Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, announced in a speech to the Royal College of Nursing congress a 10-point plan to extend nurses' skills and give them greater responsibility. He said he wanted to "liberate nurses" so that they could be "leaders of change".

A ministerial source said: "The NHS has been too reluctant to look at whether it needs new types of healthcare worker. We need to explore this very seriously. There is certainly a need to get some of the jobs done by the sort of physicians' assistants they have in the US. But some people say these tasks could be better done by nurses than by creating a new post."

Professor Michael Orme, chairman of working party that produced the Royal College of Physicians report, said efforts to recruit more nurses had had limited success and new staff were urgently needed. "Even if nurses were to take on an expanded role, we are not blessed with large numbers of them," he said.

"The problem is that nursing does not attract many men or ethnic minorities. The term 'nursing' puts them off."

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