Coronavirus could push ‘already exhausted nurses’ to breaking point

The ICN has called for additional support for nurses.

Matt Bodell
16 March 2020
Hospital curtain intensive care

Nurses will be working long stressful shifts during which they are exposed to a great deal of human suffering.

Already “exhausted nurses” will be pushed even harder during the Coronavirus pandemic and healthcare leaders must ensure they are supported, says the International Council of Nurses (ICN).


The ICN has issued a worldwide call on governments and healthcare leaders to ensure nurses are given adequate breaks, emotional or mental health support and the personal protective equipment required to care for COVID-19 patients.

They stressed that many nurses will be working long stressful shifts during which they are exposed to a great deal of human suffering and their mental wellbeing is extremely important if they are to be able to continue to provide the highest quality care possible. 

An article in the Lancet earlier this week, focusing on nurses in Wuhan province, China, underlined both the physical and mental stress nurses are under because of the virus.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) WHO issued guidance on mental health and psychosocial support for people affected by the virus, and for the staff caring for them.


Nurses are the front line.

The ICN says that while they are concerned about the availability of personal protective equipment for nurses working in close contact with infected patients, WHO has said that the production and distribution of such equipment has been increased.

Howard Catton, Chief Executive of the ICN, said: “We often hear people talk about nurses being on the front line of healthcare, but in the fight against this new and deadly virus, nurses are the front line of defence.

“ICN will continue to ensure that their voices are heard and press WHO and governments to provide them with the vital resources they need.

“Many nurses in affected areas will now be very tired from their long stressful shifts, so we are calling on employers to ensure that they get adequate breaks during and between their shifts so that they can continue to carry out their compassionate and courageous duty.


“We asked our colleagues at WHO this week what more could be done to ensure that nurses are receiving adequate PPE protective equipment and we received assurances that more equipment is being produced and supplied to the affected areas. We will continue to monitor this situation and offer support and advice where appropriate.”

Simple but effective measures.

ICN President Annette Kennedy added: “The pictures we have seen of exhausted nurses shows how they are putting their patients’ needs before their own.

“It is always humbling to see how our colleagues step forward when they are needed, even though they may be exposing themselves to dangers at work.

‘I want to remind all nurses about looking after themselves and the importance of teaching their patients and colleagues about good infection control. We all need to take care of ourselves if there is any chance that we could be at risk of contracting this dangerous infection.

“It comes down to simple but effective measures, most importantly regular and effective hand-washing.”


The ICN will be monitoring the effects of the mental health and other guidance, and say they welcome any feedback from NNAs and individual nurses about their efficacy.

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