Published: 25/07/2002, Volume II2, No. 5816 Page 18 19

The national press has a schizophrenic attitude to nurses: on one level they are treasured as embodying the best of self-sacrificing public service, and on another they are a commodity to be discussed in the same way as beds or wheelchairs.Neither approach does much, of course, to make nursing appear an attractive career option.

The Times and The Guardian warned on Thursday that the US healthcare organisations were targeting UK nurses by offering double the salaries available in this country.The report also remarked on how the UK would increasingly find itself in competition with the US for nurses trained in the Philippines, the Caribbean, India and South Africa.Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dr Beverley Malone was quoted as saying, 'We are all chasing the same nurses now.' It can only be hoped that Dr Malone, previously, of course, a major player in US nursing, can stay one step ahead of her former colleagues.

In the wake of the Budget, the consultant contract and last week's comprehensive spending review, expectations are running high.But chancellor Gordon Brown, one of the few whose worldview has to involve thinking of nurses as careers and a commodity, bluntly told The Independent : 'There is a choice between [spending] more on pay and more on employing extra people and improving public services.'

The Financial Times further dampened any enthusiasm that nursing recruitment was going to get any easier - particularly in the South East - by looking at some of the arithmetic behind the government's plans to increase spending on affordable housing for key workers.Unearthing some research by the Halifax building society, it reported that the average cost of a London home is more than eight times the size of a nurse's annual pay packet.

However, the picture is not as straightforward as it seems - the Halifax's research found that housing in the north of England has actually got more affordable for nurses.The average property in the North is three-and-a-quarter times a nurse's annual salary.Ten years ago, the ratio was four and a half.This, as the FT points out, is why 'government is keen to encourage public sector pay awards that reflect varying economic circumstances... but the unions are firmly wedded to national pay bargaining'.