The Royal College of Nursing hasn’t told nurses to call women by gender-neutral terms

5th Feb 2020


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has told nurses not to use the term “ladies” or “lady.”


The RCN internal style guide recommended using “women” or “woman” instead of “ladies” or “lady” in written documentation. This was not guidance to nurses on how to speak to patients.

“Nurses have been told not to call female patients “ladies”  and to use gender-neutral language in political correctness gone mad.”

The Sun, 2 February 2020

“…gendered terms like “chairman” are banned – as is “lady”.”

Daily Mirror, 1 February 2020

Over the weekend, several newspapers reported on style guidance from the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which says:

“Ensure that your language is gender neutral, for example: chair not chairman or chairperson; humankind not mankind; staffed not manned.

“Use woman or women not lady or ladies.”

The Sun and the Daily Mirror reported that nurses have been told not to call female patients ladies. There are two problems with this.

Firstly, neither newspaper explained that the RCN recommended using “woman” or “women” instead of “lady” and “ladies”.

While the RCN did recommend using gender-neutral language in its style guide, it did not recommend this approach when describing women, as could be inferred from the reporting.

And secondly, the RCN style guide is not a guide to nursing staff on how to speak to patients. It’s an internal style guide for the RCN’s own communications.

The RCN told us: “This was not guidance for nurses on how to speak to, or about, their patients.  Instead it was a guide for staff who work at the RCN on respectful use of language.

“Nurses are capable of making their own judgements about how they speak to the people they care for.”

So suggesting that the terms have been “banned for use in hospitals”, as the Mirror did, or that this is guidance that applies to nurses talking to patients (as both the Mail and the Sun did) is inaccurate.

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