Protection demanded for nurses ‘ostracised and abused’ during pandemic worldwide

Fear and ignorance blamed for violence against nurses caring for patients with COVID-19

Picture shows a woman holding a hand in front of her face protectively.
Picture: iStock

Increasing violence against nurses who are being targeted due to their care of patients with COVID-19 has led for calls on governments worldwide to intervene.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) said it has received ‘highly concerning reports’ from national nurses’ associations in recent weeks about nurses who have been ‘ostracised, abused and physically attacked’. 

One nurse from Mexico told the ICN she and her colleagues had been ostracised by members of their community, either because people believed COVID-19 was a hoax or because they feared that nurses were spreading the infection.

Her colleagues had been sprayed with bleach or had hot coffee thrown at them on their way to and from work.

‘Nurses at risk when their communities need them more than ever’

The ICN also highlighted the case of a nurse in the Philippines who was reportedly attacked by men who poured bleach on his face, and healthcare workers in India being beaten, stoned, spat on, threatened and evicted from their homes.

ICN chief executive Howard Catton said: ‘Whatever the reasons for such aggression and violence – and I suspect that much of it is the result of misinformation and ignorance – nurses are being put at increased risk at a time when their communities need them more than ever.’

Mr Catton and colleagues from Physicians for Human Rights and the World Medical Association have called for government action in an article in the Lancet.

‘Prevent and condemn attacks, take security steps’

They made these recommendations to governments:

  • Collect data on attacks. 
  • Prevent and condemn attacks through partnership working.
  • Counter misinformation, such as conspiracy theories. 
  • Take strong, yet responsible, enforcement action.
  • Invest in health security measures. 

England’s chief nursing officer Ruth May called in March for the public to respect NHS staff following reports of abuse and violence towards them at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A woman claiming to have COVID-19 who spat in the faces of a nurse and two police officers in East Sussex was warned in a court appearance on 13 May that she could face more than a year in prison. She is due to be sentenced on 10 June.

Mr Catton said: ‘We are calling on governments to take a zero tolerance approach and to immediately take action to stop these attacks.’

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