International Nurses Day may be low-key, but we’ve never been more in the spotlight

COVID-19 has highlighted how vital the profession is – and how much investment is needed

A nurse working in intensive care
COVID-19 has brought a renewed respect for the work of nurses  Picture: PA

The year 2020 was always going to be significant for nurses.

It marks the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth and we were planning to commemorate her contribution to nursing with some big events.  

Year of the Nurse and the Midwife plans derailed 

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that 2020 would be the Year of the Nurse and Midwife and last month published the first ever State of the World’s Nursing report

The Nursing Now campaign was planning to lead global celebrations with our groups and partners, the International Council of Nurses (ICN), as well as WHO.

And then COVID-19 appeared in all our lives and plans quickly changed. 

    The State of the World’s Nursing – a landmark for the profession – went almost unreported by the UK media because its release coincided with the announcement that prime minister Boris Johnson had gone into intensive care. 

    The irony is compelling: Mr Johnson went into St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where Florence Nightingale set up the first nurse training school. When he emerged, he publicly thanked two nurses who had clearly provided responsive whole-person care in a complex environment. 

    In the space of a few days nursing was both ignored and lauded by the media.

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    The public perception of nurses has been changed dramatically by the pandemic

    International Nurses Day 2020, on Tuesday 12 May, takes place in an atmosphere of sadness for those we have lost and admiration for the nurses, and all health workers, who have risked everything to care for people during the pandemic.

    ‘In a landmark study, nurses across the world told us that nursing was often invisible. It is not invisible now’

    It is fair to say that no one will look at nurses in the same way again after this – but how do we harness the new insights into nursing and respect for nurses to advance our profession?

    The response to COVID-19 has highlighted how nurses are there every step of the way in healthcare, from testing through to critical care, community and mental healthcare, palliative care and every care pathway in between.

    As nurses, we already knew this – but did the public really appreciate the essential contribution of nurses across the spectrum of healthcare? In the landmark study Triple Impact, nurses across the world told us that nursing was often invisible. It is not invisible now. 

    As a global nursing advocacy project, Nursing Now has been approached by organisations, people and the media asking how they can show appreciation for nurses. We are thrilled but the feeling will be greater still if this wave of support leads to real change in the profile and status of nurses.

    That will only happen with sustained investment in nurse education and practice, and with the inclusion of nurses in policy discussions and debates. One of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is that nurses have to be integral to health policy development, not an optional extra.

    We need to channel this recognition and respect into investment in nursing

    The State of the World’s Nursing report shows clearly that the world needs more nurses, yet investment in nursing has been slow and inadequate. 

    If ever there was a time to reinforce the report’s messages it is now. Governments will have to invest in recruiting and educating more nurses and then keeping them in the workforce. Nursing has to be an attractive career choice that is clearly ‘grounded in science, technology, teamwork and health equity’, the report says.

    Nursing practice makes perfect sense and we have witnessed this amid the challenges of the pandemic. We have been seen and now we need to be heard, using the evidence of our own effectiveness to lobby for what we need.

    Pull up those chairs; we are at the top table.

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    Barbara Stilwell is executive director of Nursing Now global campaign



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