Two nurse recruitment adverts came under heavy criticism on social media, with them being branded ‘sexist’ and dated.

The adverts – on behalf of Hull and East Yorkshire (HEY) NHS Trust – were published in industry publication HSJ. One of the pictures shows a nurse with the line “Before lunch, Izzy made Roy’s heart flutter. It’d stopped for ten minutes.”

To make matters worse, the Trust had REJECTED the ads, but their design agency accidentally sent them for print.

This caused an emergency for the Trust as they received heavy criticism on social media even though the ads had been used without approval.

Prof. Jane Girvin said on Twitter “Come on nurses on Twitter. Is this acceptable? Let @HEYNHS know what you think.”

Dr Lynne Stobbart, a nurse and senior research associate at Newcastle University, described the adverts as “patronizing, demeaning, insulting and offensive”.

… And Elaine Maxwell, associate professor in leadership at London South Bank University, questioned whether the Yorkshire trust used “Mills & Boon style ads for other staff”, and whether it only wanted to employ “young blonde female nurses”. (Both quotes via

A spokesperson for the Trust said “We are aware that the unauthorised image has caused some concerns and we would like to reassure people that we remain committed to the principles of equality and diversity.”

The agency that put the ads together, Strawberry, has also apologised, saying they “never meant to cause offence or distress to anyone involved”.

What does good look like?

Despite the Trust taking the brunt of the backlash here, this wasn’t their fault. They “immediately” rejected the ads, knowing that they demeaned the nursing profession and that should have been the end of it. In their statement they lay the blame squarely with their design agency, and if their version of events is correct it would be difficult to disagree with that.

When working with an agency, you should feel confident that their review and sign off processes are robust, and that they have a clear way of archiving rejected concepts.

Moving forward

Telling this story acts as a good opportunity for design agencies to think about and review their version control and sign off processes – and what happens to the files associated with a concept that gets rejected. If you commission work from agencies, perhaps this can be a prompt to ask them what their processes are, too.

Campaign date: May 2017