This site is intended for health professionals only

Nurses show support for colleagues caught up in war-torn countries

Nurses show support for colleagues caught up in war-torn countries

Nurses from across the UK have shown solidarity with colleagues in areas of conflict and have voted for a new Royal College of Nursing (RCN) policy for responding to humanitarian crises.

During a debate at the RCN’s annual conference today, nurses raised concerns that not enough support was being given to those working in war-torn countries and stressed that attacks on healthcare systems during conflicts were ‘becoming alarmingly common’.

Leading the resolution – which called on RCN Council to ‘update and implement a policy for responding to humanitarian crises’ – was led by Rachel Hollis from the RCN’s Professional Nursing Committee and was passed earlier today.

Ms Hollis said: ‘In a world which faces an unprecedented number in the range of humanitarian crises, it’s imperative that the RCN is able to respond in a transparent, equitable, consistent and coherent way.

‘There are several overlapping humanitarian crises which the nursing profession across the world is responding to as professionals, but also quite simply as human beings, and where RCN members may be delivering care as volunteers or as employees of humanitarian organisations.’

As part of the discussion, nurses pointed to conflicts such as those in Gaza, Myanmar, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Ukraine, as well as the impacts of climate change and disease.

Terri Porrett, vice chair of RCN Council and who is also part of a medical mission in Gaza, described nursing as a ‘global humanitarian profession’.

‘This humanitarian lens should inform our support anywhere in times of crisis,’ she added.

‘However, support for nursing and all healthcare staff in Gaza appears to have been conflated with religious and political alignment.’

She said colleagues in Gaza had asked her ‘to ensure they are not forgotten’.

‘And I appeal to the Royal College of Nursing to update and implement an equitable policy for responding to humanitarian crises. Nurses in Gaza are just like you and me,’ added Ms Porrett.

Professor Judith Ellis, vice chair of the RCN’s International Committee, said she heard stories from nurses in Myanmar on a weekly basis around nurses who are ‘captured, tortured and burnt alive’.  ‘It is a horrific situation,’ she added.

Nurse Mohammed Ibrahim, RCN Cancer Forum chair, said attacks on healthcare systems were now ‘alarmingly common’ in areas of conflict and that he was committed to playing a ‘visible, consistent and transparent role in responding to humanitarian crises’.

‘It’s vital that this role includes advocacy for the safety of healthcare workers.’

He added: ‘We call on the RCN to be more consistent and transparent in acknowledging and responding to humanitarian crises. The world is watching – the time is now. Let’s respond to always in a way that honours our nursing values.’

RCN president Sheila Sobrany also joined the debate and urged nurses to ‘use your voices’ on humanitarian crises, suggesting some nursing leaders ‘have been silent’.

‘Use your voices – every one of you is a leader in this room and can make a difference,’ she said.

‘We need to implement a policy for guidance and support for our colleagues, our healthcare colleagues, our medical colleagues, who are dying in the front line, as we did in Covid.’

Bringing the debate to a close, RCN Congress chair BJ Waltho asked nurses to stand up and show their support for nurses in areas of conflict.

‘There are nursing colleagues all over the world at this moment [who] are working in areas of warzones and areas of conflict. I want us to show our solidarity by standing up and showing that we are thinking of them,’ she added.

See how our symptom tool can help you make better sense of patient presentations
Click here to search a symptom