An international report has highlighted the current challenges the workforce faces.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the world needs nearly six million more nurses – an issue that has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Nurses are the backbone of any health system,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“Today, many nurses find themselves on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19,” he noted, adding that it was vital they “get the support they need to keep the world healthy.”
It is estimated the UK is short of around 50,000 registered nurses, with around 40,000 unfilled vacancies in England alone.
Patient safety is at risk.
Howard Catton, head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) warned that nurses numbers are an important patient safety issue.
“We know that the evidence shows that infection rates, medication errors, identifying a deteriorating patient, mortality rates are all higher where there are too few nurses,” he said.
“Nursing numbers is a patient safety issue. But it also matters because shortages exhaust our current nursing workforce. High levels of stress, burnout, high turnover rates as well.”
Royal College of Nursing President Professor Anne Marie Rafferty provided a stark warning that the UK entered a global pandemic with a significant number of vacant posts.
“Today’s ground-breaking report leaves us in no doubt about the central role nurses play in achieving equality of health and life outcomes in all communities. In the UK, nursing staff are right now battling the COVID-19 outbreak and trying to save lives not just in hospitals, but in care homes and the community too.
“But the UK went into this pandemic with large numbers of nursing posts vacant – almost 40,000 in the NHS in England alone. Ministers and NHS leaders must take note of the report’s recommendation that governments need to invest in a massive acceleration of nursing education, creation of nursing jobs, and leadership.
Our pride is focused.
Commenting on the report, Andrea Sutcliffe Chief Executive and Registrar at the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), said; “the Covid-19 pandemic means our pride is focused on the way existing and former nursing and midwifery professionals are at the centre of the world’s response to this crisis.
“In these unprecedented times, we are seeing why nurses and midwives are the heartbeat of our global health and social care system and why they need our recognition and support.
“Today’s report brings the well-documented challenges around resourcing, recruitment, retention and ongoing training into sharp focus again.
“I’m glad to see the emphasis on collaborative multidisciplinary working, which we know – now more than ever – provides the best outcomes for people in all health and social care settings.
“It’s clear more needs to be done to sustain and develop our nursing and midwifery community and all of us need to answer that call.