Nurses represent the ultimate patient caregivers. From caring for patients in dire need of immediate medical assistance to giving some much-needed emotional support to a concerned family member, they are vital to assisting patients in some of the most troubling and monumental moments of their lives.
And as today marks what would have been Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday, during the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has warned that nurses need more support to cope with the mental health pressures of being on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ICN is calling on governments everywhere to acknowledge the crucial role nurses play in society and pledge to ensure nurses’ health and safety at work, and to improve their pay and working conditions. It has also urged for more investment, more resources and more support for the nursing industry, including the enhanced provision of mental health services for these frontline workers.
"COVID-19 is forcing nurses to work under great physical and psychological strain, in situations where a lack of proper Personal Protective Equipment is adding fear to the other strong and exhausting emotions they are experiencing," said ICN President Annette Kennedy.
And in conversation with Euronews, Howard Catton, ICN CEO, said: “We need to fundamentally change the thinking around investment in nursing and health if we are really to nurse the world to health – and improve health globally for everyone.“Nurses need to have support in terms of being able to talk about this, to be able to say ‘I’m not OK’, to not have to work endless shifts without having breaks and to make sure that they are able to see their families – in a safe way.
“We’ve gone into this pandemic six million nurses short worldwide. In some countries, we’ve seen verbal and physical attacks on nurses. With this six-million shortage in the number of nurses, if we don’t look after nurses’ physical and mental health, the risk is that we will exhaust them – and that will be a major issue if there’s a second spike of this virus.”
Catton noted that the mental health support that nurses and other health workers need is as important as the physical work that they are doing, as often, they are stepping in and providing emotional support to patients because the families can’t be there. “The nurses may be the last hand the dying patient touches, or the last face that they see,” he added, pointing out that there are more patients dying than normal during the current crisis, which would lead to more post-traumatic issues later down the line.
“The State of the World’s Nursing report which I co-chaired on behalf of ICN, tells us to invest in nursing education, jobs and leadership. Our International Nurses Day publication, Nursing the World to Health, shows what is already being done, and our Advanced Practice Guidelines highlight the massive potential that nursing has to expand healthcare and ensure health for all" Catton said in an ICN press release. "We now have the roadmap that we must show to politicians and policymakers and say, ‘here is a better way, this is what must be done, and nursing is a solution."
“We want to wish all 20-plus million nurses a happy International Nurses Day as they continue to nurse the world to health."