Low Pay, Bad Working Conditions, COVID Burnout Spark Likely Global Nursing Shortage


GENEVA – The International Council of Nurses warned Thursday that the world was facing a nursing crisis and could expect a significant shortage — perhaps a reduction by half — in the global nursing workforce of 27 million in the next few years.

The council said its latest survey of 64 national nursing associations found disputes over pay, working conditions, violence and intimidation were causing nurses to leave their profession.

There’s also the COVID-19 effect. The report found lack of protection and long, stressful shifts were having a profound impact on the mental health of nurses across the globe.

ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton said politicians and leaders have recognized the value of nurses in terms of their care and compassion. However, he said, they have not recognized their value to society and compensated them accordingly.

“And that, I think is very much also at the heart of the discontent, the unhappiness, some of the actions that we are seeing from nurses around the world — this chasm between the rhetoric, the positive rhetoric for nurses but the paucity of practical action and practical responses to support nurses,” he said.

Strikes in several countries

Strikes over nurses’ pay and working conditions have broken out in Zimbabwe, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, the United States and elsewhere. The report said disputes, growing discontent and concerns such as protection at work were undermining people’s interest in pursuing a career in nursing.

Another problem confronting the profession, said Catton, is the disruption of nurses’ education by the pandemic. He said that was resulting in a six-to-12-month delay in certifying new nurses.

“So, those delays in the pipeline coming through, the rising discontent, unhappiness — both, we think, again have the potential to impact negatively on both recruitment to the nursing profession and the retention of those nurses that we already have,” he said.

These issues and concerns exist throughout the world but are more pronounced in low- and middle-income countries. That is leading to a growing brain drain. The report noted a significant exodus of nurses in developing countries going to richer nations, where pay and conditions are better.

At the same time, the ICN report said, some of the richer countries are actively seeking to recruit nurses in the poorer countries to reduce the shortages they are experiencing.

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