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Mass traumatisation of nurses makes need to invest in profession more pressing than ever

Pandemic’s pressures likely to force many exhausted nurses to quit

Long-term effects of coronavirus on nurses and nursing will be profound

The burden of the COVID-19 pandemic is weighing heavily on nurses shoulders across the globe.

Exhausted by long hours and arduous workloads, many nurses feel traumatised by their experiences and are ready to quit.

Reports from our 130-plus national nursing associations worldwide suggest a large number of nurses may leave the profession sooner than planned because of the stresses they face.

Even if only

Long-term effects of coronavirus on nurses and nursing will be profound

A nurse passes a mural in the Mexican city of Juarez dedicated to the contribution of the country’s nurses during the pandemic Picture: Alamy

The burden of the COVID-19 pandemic is weighing heavily on nurses’ shoulders across the globe.

Exhausted by long hours and arduous workloads, many nurses feel traumatised by their experiences and are ready to quit.

Reports from our 130-plus national nursing associations worldwide suggest a large number of nurses may leave the profession sooner than planned because of the stresses they face.

Even if only one in ten nurses did that, we could be looking at a new global nurse deficit of 13 million – close to half of the total number of nurses practising at the moment.

That is a daunting prospect.

A year into this pandemic, nurses’ mental health is in peril

Our latest survey of national member associations highlights the perilous condition of nurses’ mental health after a year battling the pandemic.

Nurses are afraid, and their fears about contracting the virus are, sadly, well-founded.

Our survey data from 34 countries suggest that, on average, 10% of all coronavirus cases are nurses. In Iran, 45% of the country’s nurses have had COVID-19; in Mexico the proportion is 21%.

Remembering the UK nursing staff who have lost their lives

We are still hearing of nurses working without inadequate personal protective equipment, so no wonder they are afraid.

That fear, added to the stress of their physically-difficult working conditions and the distressing work they are doing, is leading to a new level of mass trauma in the nursing profession.

A nurse on a COVID-19 ward in Tehran, the capital of Iran, a country where 45% of nurses are reported to have contracted the virus Picture: Shutterstock

Long-term effects of the pandemic on nurses will be complex

The short-term effects of these pressures are obvious. Months of having to work under such unprecedented strain and possible exposure to the virus have meant many nurses are on the verge of breaking.

The long-term effects are unclear. It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the outcomes will be negative and will put further strain on the already-overstretched global nursing workforce.

We have collected powerful evidence from every region of the world that shows this mass traumatisation of the nursing workforce is complex.

Nurses everywhere are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, other forms of mental distress and long-COVID – all of which have long-term and as-yet-unknown consequences for individuals and the profession.

Recent research into the effects of the pandemic on staff in intensive care units (ICU) from King's College London, revealed poor mental health was common.

Our survey suggests similar findings, but it is not confined to nurses working in critical care settings.

COVID-19 mortality figures for nurses worldwide

At the beginning of 2020, many politicians said they expected the new virus to be easily contained and that it would disappear within months.

They were wrong.

The demands on hospitals in many countries are at their highest since COVID-19 emerged.

Nurses and other healthcare workers are bearing the brunt, as a result of the mistakes that were made and the decisions that were taken or not taken by governments.

We have tried to quantify that strain on the global nursing workforce and we are trying to keep track of the numbers of nurses who have been infected with the virus or died with it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked countries to record and share this information but that is not happening yet in a standardised way.

From the data we have gathered so far, we can confirm that 2,262 nurses have died with the virus in 59 countries – 60% of those deaths in the Americas.

More than 1.6 million healthcare workers have been infected in 34 countries.

We will keep talking to governments about nurse numbers

We know these figures are likely to be a gross underestimate of the true numbers.

However, until there is a global standardised dataset, we will remain in the dark about the real extent of mortality among our nursing colleagues.

We will continue to lobby governments about taking predictions about the risk of a widening nurse deficit seriously or face a catastrophic collapse in the quality of healthcare services globally.

Nurses are the backbone of quality health services; without them, there will be no healthcare.

The time for action is now.


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