A SHORTAGE of nurses across the NHS should have triggered an increase in wages to meet demand. The reason this has not happened - at least not to the extent required - is because most nurses are women.

That was the depressing conclusion this week of a study carried out jointly by the Royal College of Nursing and researchers at Oxford Brookes University.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the failure to pay women equally in the wake of BBC journalist Samira Ahmed's employment tribunal victory.

But away from the occasional high-profile case is the more pernicious issue of female-dominated professions being fundamentally undervalued.

Dr Anne Laure Humbert, one of the report’s authors, said the job of a nurse still elicits "‘old-fashioned’ perceptions...as a job carried out by women for whom caring is ‘natural’, thus deskilling and devaluing those involved".

The paper also argues that the dire shortage of nurses "should have forced an increase in wages to meet demand, but because most nurses are women, the profession continues to be under-valued".

Until both status and pay are improved, it says, severe nursing shortages will persist.

Between 2010 and 2018, average weekly earnings for NHS nurses rose by 8.1 per cent compared to 28.3% for inflation.

In Scotland, 6.3% of nursing and midwifery posts are now vacant - a record shortfall of 4,013 - and more than half of the existing nursing workforce is over 45.

According to the study, nine in 10 nurses are female, but women occupy fewer than a third of the profession's senior positions and earn 17% less on average per week than men in similar positions.

Also worrying is that nurses from an ethnic minority background typically earn 10% less than white colleagues.

The root of the gender pay gap in nursing owed less to sex discrimination and more to gender differences in working hours - though that in itself speaks to how loaded caring responsibilities still are towards women.

Dr Kate Clayton-Hathway, co-author, said more increasing numbers of nurses are simply choosing flexibility over career progression because of a "paucity of family care provision”.

It comes after a major study last year found that male NHS doctors overall were earning 17% more than their female colleagues, rising to a gap of 33% in GPs.

Part-time working - again due to motherhood - was a factor, but it was also notable that the male-dominated specialties (for example, surgery) were better paid than female dominated specialities such as public health medicine.

Sadly, women - and their work - is just not seen to be "worth" the same as men.