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Report reveals extent of global nursing shortage – and how to address it

Findings show ‘investment in the nursing profession is a benefit to society, not a cost’
Trainee nurses in Zambia

Findings show ‘investment in the nursing profession is a benefit to society, not a cost’

A new report calls for governments to address the global nursing shortage by investing in nurse education, creating new jobs in the profession, and developing nurse leadership roles.

The State of the World’s Nursing 2020 report reveals a global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses, and states that a sixth of the world’s 28 million nurses are expected to retire in the next ten years.

Increase in nurse graduate numbers urgently required

The report, produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now,

Findings show ‘investment in the nursing profession is a benefit to society, not a cost’


Trainee nurses in Zambia. Picture: Alamy

A new report calls for governments to address the global nursing shortage by investing in nurse education, creating new jobs in the profession, and developing nurse leadership roles.

The State of the World’s Nursing 2020 report reveals a global shortfall of 5.9 million nurses, and states that a sixth of the world’s 28 million nurses are expected to retire in the next ten years.

Increase in nurse graduate numbers urgently required

The report, produced by the World Health Organization (WHO), International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now, says all countries need to increase their number of nurse graduates by 8% per year on average over the next ten years to keep up with demand.

The NHS in England recorded 38,785 nursing vacancies as of December 2019.

Focus on nursing leadership

The report also calls for nursing leadership to be improved across the world. It found that countries with a chief nursing officer (or equivalent), and nursing leadership programmes, saw improved conditions for its nurses. 

The report also recommends that countries should:

  • Educate and train nurses to drive progress in primary healthcare
  • Improve working conditions by ensuring safe staffing levels, fair salaries, and respecting nurses’ rights to occupational health and safety. 
  • Implement flexible working patterns to support nurses who are parents or who have other caring responsibilities.
  • Monitor nurse mobility and migration, and manage it responsibly and ethically.


Annette Kennedy

Call to invest in nurses now

ICN president Annette Kennedy said politicians are only now starting to understand the true value of nurses.

‘This report highlights the nursing contribution and confirms that investment in the nursing profession is a benefit to society, not a cost,’ she said.

COVID-19 pandemic has underlined importance of nursing

Nursing and Midwifery Council chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe said the COVID-19 pandemic has shown why nurses are the ‘heartbeat’ of our global health and social care system.   

‘[The] report brings the well-documented challenges around resourcing, recruitment, retention and ongoing training into sharp focus again.

‘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.’


Read the report


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