The world will need up to 13 million more nurses over the next decade, the equivalent of almost half the current 28 million-strong workforce, it has been estimated.
This is according to a an International Council of Nurses (ICN) report, published today, that called for a long-term plan to reduce the numbers of nurses leaving the profession because of additional stresses from Covid-19. It also said a new generation of nurses was needed to meet rising demands.
It urged countries to prioritise nurses for vaccinations, provide safe staffing levels, expand their domestic nurse education systems, increase the attractiveness of nursing careers, adhere to ethical international recruitment standards and ensure they have a self-sufficient nursing supply.
The document further warned current shortages will constrain many countries from achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC). This target set by the United Nations means all individuals and communities receive the health services they need without suffering financial hardship.
Nurse shortage ‘crisis’
Howard Catton, ICN chief executive officer, said the severity of nurse shortages has reached ‘crisis’ point because of persistent underfunding, vacancies, sickness rates and nurses leaving their jobs. In the England alone, the latest data shows there are 39,813 vacancies as of September 2021.
He warned there was already a shortage of six million nurses at the start of the pandemic, but the world will ‘need to recruit and retain up to 13 million nurses over the next decade’ because of an expected ‘avalanche of resignations and retirements’ due to the pressures of Covid.
Mr Catton concluded: ‘Let’s be clear: we are not talking about stop-gap solutions, getting through the current pandemic, or even preparing for the next. We are talking about being able to address all the healthcare needs that have built up and been delayed since the onset of the pandemic.’
He called for a ‘fully funded and actionable ten-year plan to support and strengthen’ nursing and the healthcare workforce amid what he called a ‘global health crisis’. The report said this would be coordinated by stakeholders and countries to aim for a ‘sustainable global nursing workforce’.
This statement comes alongside the ICN report finding that the Covid-19 pandemic has been a ‘major disruptor of nurse retention’ in part because it has led to ‘increased burnout’.
Recruiting international nurses
But high-income countries relying on the ‘quick fix’ of international recruitment to solve their nursing shortages could worsen shortages in some low-income countries, the report also warned. This could ‘undermine’ their ability to respond to the pandemic and deliver UHC, it added.
In 2019, the Government made a manifesto commitment to deliver 50,000 more nurses in England by 2024/25. It estimates that 12,500 of these nurses will be recruited from abroad via ‘existing ethical international recruitment efforts’ and promoting the NHS visa.
The report also highlighted high levels of staff absence because of the Omicron wave, pointing to England where one in ten NHS staff were absent in the last week of December as an example.
Pamela Cipriano, ICN president, summarised: ‘Delivering commitments to support nurses with safe work environments, staffing levels and workloads, involvement in decision-making, mental health services and equitable compensation will catalyse interest and growth to build the profession.’