ICN warns pay ‘unrest,’ education disruption will worsen nursing shortage

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“Today, I am calling on governments to invest in nurses’ pay and education for now and the future,” Annette Kennedy, president of the International Council of Nurses, said Thursday when ICN released a new report on the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the nursing workforce.

Despite the pandemic raising awareness of what nurses go through and how essential they are, ICN’s report warns ongoing issues could worsen the shortage of qualified nurses.

ICN surveyed 64 national nursing associations around the world, and found more than 20% had “significant concerns and unrest” related to the pay of nurses in their countries. The groups also said violence and threats were causing many nurses to leave the profession.

Pay and working conditions are at the root of strikes in Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, the United States and other countries.

The report also showed further effects of the pandemic, including education interruptions that will lessen the supply of newly qualified nurses, and canceled ongoing professional education for qualified nurses.

ICN’s report found 73% of the national nursing associations agreed the education of student nurses was disrupted by the pandemic in 2020, and these disruptions are leading to delays in graduations.

“The strength of the future nursing workforce depends on a continuous flow of new registered nurses from the nursing education pipeline,” the report states. “Delays in the education sector will lead to failures into the future. Investment in nursing education and jobs is needed to improve retention of the current nursing workforce and address the global nurse shortage.”

“Governments should act quickly to ensure that there are well signposted pathways into nursing, so that we can start to recruit the next generation as soon as possible,” Kennedy said. “Being a nurse is the most rewarding job on earth, but nurses also need to be able to pay their bills and feed and support their families.”

Despite the concerns raised, Nursing Times reported, the report also showed more than 30% of national nursing associations had seen an increase in the number of applications to nursing programs, although this was mainly seen in high-income countries.

In addition, 57% of respondents reported a “positive effect” of the coronavirus pandemic on nurse education, citing that the “biggest gains” were seen in online learning.

Meanwhile, Nursing Times reported, ICN chief executive Howard Catton added: “There is now a chasm between the rhetoric of governments about how they value nurses, and their practical responses to the challenges that nurses are facing every day.

“This disconnect is resulting in increasing discontent among the world’s nurses, resulting in protests and disputes that risk undermining recruitment and retention in the profession.”

He added that nursing was the “foundation stone of the Covid response, but it also underpins any hope we have that our health systems will be able to be built back stronger and address the enormous and still growing backlog of non-Covid health”.

“The primary responsibility of elected leaders is to keep people safe, but Covid-19 has shown that you simply cannot do that without real and sustained investment in nurses and the healthcare workforce,” said Mr Catton.

“This is a commitment that must be written into the heart of the post-pandemic treaty that world leaders are now negotiating.”