Comment

Goodbye 2020 – the ‘year of the nurse’ that COVID-19 created

It may not have been the year we expected, but the pandemic certainly strengthened the profession’s profile

It may not have been the year we expected, but the pandemic certainly strengthened the professions profile

With 2020 nearly behind us, Im sure we all want to say a collective goodbye to it.

Its been a terrible year, with more than 1 million people dead from the COVID-19 virus worldwide, including more than 1,500 nurses many of whom may have been exposed to the virus through inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Pandemic highlighted the professions value in the year of International Year of the Nurse

But while plans for the International Year of the Nurse took a back seat, the pandemic powerfully demonstrated the value of nursing to governments and the public alike.

It may not have been the year we expected, but the pandemic certainly strengthened the profession’s profile

Picture: iStock

With 2020 nearly behind us, I’m sure we all want to say a collective goodbye to it.

It’s been a terrible year, with more than 1 million people dead from the COVID-19 virus worldwide, including more than 1,500 nurses – many of whom may have been exposed to the virus through inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Pandemic highlighted the profession’s value in the year of International Year of the Nurse

But while plans for the International Year of the Nurse took a back seat, the pandemic powerfully demonstrated the value of nursing to governments and the public alike.

And if 2020 exposed the intimate relationship between a nation’s health and its economy, it also starkly highlighted the courage, care, leadership and complexity of nursing.

‘The world was not prepared for a pandemic. Nurses have lost their lives and others have been put at risk as a result of that lack of preparedness’

Seeing exhausted nurses swathed in PPE caring for the sick and dying brought people out of their houses and onto the streets around the world in spontaneous displays of love and respect for our profession.

However, COVID-19 also exposed some hard truths about the lack of investment in healthcare services that must now be addressed.

Recruitment shortfall in nursing shows the world’s lack of preparedness

We went into this pandemic with a worldwide shortfall of 6 million nurses, begging the question: how did we allow the global healthcare workforce to become understaffed by 20%?

The world was not prepared for a pandemic. Nurses have lost their lives and others have been put at risk as a result of that lack of preparedness.

On top of that, some nurses have faced abuse and been treated like pariahs by their communities – some even had bleach thrown in their faces in the street.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) called out this abhorrent behaviour and demanded that governments immediately put zero tolerance policies in place to deal with violence against healthcare workers.

Building on our COVID-19 experience to define the health services of the future

Our national nursing association members across different countries have told us how nurses have been at the forefront of the way COVID-19 has been tackled and that they have felt energised by the leadership roles they have taken.

We need to build on their experiences and make sure that we can determine what health services should look like in the future.

The World Health Organization (WHO) State of the World’s Nursing report provides governments with a clear road map that they need to follow.

Its messages are about the need for investment in nurse education, leadership and decent jobs.

Nurses will be part of the solution for unmet healthcare needs

I am pleased that we now have WHO’s commitment to develop, in partnership with ourselves, a new global nursing strategy. Outcome-focused and results-oriented, this strategy will make a real difference to people’s lives.

As the voice of the world’s nurses, our platform will help us to embed nursing into the design of future healthcare services and give prominence to nurse-led models of care.

Once we come out of the COVID-19 tunnel, we know that we will have to deal with an enormous backlog of unmet healthcare needs that have accumulated over this past year, as well as the massive vaccination programmes that are commencing.

As always, nurses will be part of the solution.

Nurses will be heavily involved in the immunisation programmes and those in advanced and specialist roles will deal with the backlog, running nurse-led services that are closest to patients, highly efficient and cost-effective.

Building health systems around nurses in the future is the obvious way to go.

In the end, 2020 still turned out to be a landmark year for nursing, just not the one we expected. We must use these tragic lessons to put in place systems that serve patients better while protecting nurses’ lives and livelihoods.

International Year of the Health and Care Worker

Next year will be the International Year of the Health and Care Worker, so the focus and attention will still be on us because nurses and midwives make up 65% of that workforce.

We must use it to continue to raise the profile of the profession and let the world know what we are capable of.

On behalf of the ICN, its president Annette Kennedy and the 27 million nurses we represent, I would like to wish you well and thank you for your incredible work this year.

It has been a year like no other, but I firmly believe its legacy will be a strengthened nursing profession that will lead not just the delivery of healthcare but the design of future health systems.


Howard Catton

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