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When all this is over, will we remember our nurses?

Nursing students

ECU produces the most graduate nurses in Western Australia.

2020 was named as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization. For the first time in history, the nations of the world united in recognition of the benefits that nursing and midwifery bring to the health of the global population. The World Health Organization recognised that without nurses and midwives, it will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals or universal health coverage. It also recognised that investing in nursing and midwifery would make an enormous contribution to rapid, cost-effective and high quality health care. Little did the world know, as we approach International Nurses Day on 12 May in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, just how predictive this acknowledgment would be.

It is nurses who are now at the bedside of the intensive care patient 24 hours a day, seven days a week, observing, managing, rescuing, comforting. It is also nurses supporting patients on their journey to recovery or sadly death. Nurses are working in every facet of health care during COVID-19, in every setting and in every country. In some places they are the only health care. Just as they have throughout history, nurses have stepped up to the challenges of maintaining exemplary care and professionalism in exceptional circumstances, ensuring the delivery of safe and effective quality care to everyone who needs it.

Nurses have had to take a step forward as much of the world takes a step back. In Australia, their efforts are being afforded the thoughts and prayers of a grateful nation, but will nurses be remembered in the same way after COVID-19? As we move forward and imagine a life beyond the pandemic, will their vital role be forgotten, once again becoming invisible to policy, resourcing and planning?

The World Health Organization's State of the World’s Nursing 2020 report confirms the growth of our nursing workforce as critical to deliver on the promise of “leaving no one behind”. It recognises nurses make a central contribution to national and global targets for a range of health priorities, including mental health and non-communicable diseases, emergency preparedness and response, patient safety, and people-centred care.

Nursing is the largest profession in the health sector, making up approximately 59 per cent of the workforce and now more than ever, the world needs more nurses. If every single person is to have access to health care by 2030, nine million more nurses and midwives will be needed.

The WHO report urges governments and all relevant stakeholders to:

  • invest in the massive acceleration of nursing education to address global needs, meet domestic demand, and respond to changing technologies and advancing models of integrated health and social care;
  • create at least six million new nursing jobs by 2030, primarily in low and middle income countries, to offset the projected shortages and redress the inequitable distribution of nurses across the world;
  • strengthen nurse leadership – both current and future leaders – to ensure that nurses have an influential role in health policy formulation and decision-making and contribute to the effectiveness of health and social care systems.

Two decades of research tells us the better qualified our nursing workforce, the better the health outcomes of patients and the community. At Edith Cowan University, we are proud of our contribution to a highly educated and skilled nursing workforce, producing the most graduate nurses in WA. As our country came to grips with COVID-19, these graduates were ready to answer the call. But will these jobs last? Will we reform the health care system to sustain this vital nursing workforce or will we lapse into business as usual until the next pandemic?

All levels of government must work together to ensure action of the WHO recommendations, to reform our health care delivery and to recognise and value the resilience, professionalism, compassion and specialist knowledge and skills that nurses bring to all facets of our health care system.

Professor Di Twigg AM is the Executive Dean of the School of Nursing and Midwifery Edith Cowan University. This article was first published by The West Australian.


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