Nurse shortages around the world should be treated as ‘a global health emergency’, according to the International Council of Nurses (ICN).
A new report from the organisation looked at evidence from more than 24 countries, including the UK, and found the level of nurses intending to leave the profession has risen to 20% or more.
The report, called Recover to Rebuild: Investing in the Nursing Workforce for Health System Effectiveness, also cites more than 100 studies showing 40% to 80% of nurses in the global workforce have experienced symptoms of psychological distress.
Co-authored by Professor James Buchan and ICN chief executive officer Howard Catton, Recover to Rebuild builds on the analysis in ICN’s Sustain and Retain report last year, which highlighted the impact of the pandemic on individual nurses and the global workforce as a whole.
According to the authors of the new report, stress, burnout, absences from work and strikes affecting the nursing workforce are symptoms of the ‘perilous state’ of healthcare.
Rather than rely on individual nurses’ resilience, governments must ‘take responsibility and make amends for inadequate planning and policy responses that have created a chronic worldwide nursing shortage’, the authors added.
‘The worldwide shortage of nurses needs to be considered as a global health emergency and recovery from the current situation must be a priority for governments everywhere,’ said Mr Catton.
‘Many nurses are leaving the profession, and those who remain are so concerned about the after-effects of the pandemic on patient safety and the wellbeing of colleagues, that they are left with no choice but to take industrial action and even outright strikes.
‘All of this is happening at a time when there is a huge backlog of untreated health needs, growth in health demands and a great ambition globally to deliver health for all,’ Mr Catton added.
Recover to Rebuild calls on governments to take urgent action and plan more effectively for the future.
Among the immediate actions the report suggests are undertaking assessments of the impact of governments’ policies on the nursing workforce, commitments to support early access to full vaccination programmes for all nurses, and the proper implementation of safe staffing levels.
Professor Buchan, of Sydney’s University of Technology, said: ‘The nursing workforce has been severely damaged by the traumas of the pandemic, and the need to rebuild our health services is an additional burden they are now carrying.
‘Without sufficient numbers of nurses who are well-motivated, educated and supported, the global health system will not be rebuilt.’