Celebrating the contributions of Nurses – Professor Julia Downing

Categories: Care, Featured, and Opinion.

This week we celebrate International Nurses Day on the 12th May – the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. This year the theme for International Nurses Day is Nurses: A Voice to Lead – A vision for future healthcare #IND2021. It will focus on the changes to and innovations in nursing and how this will ultimately shape the future of healthcare.

Over the past eighteen months we have seen a celebration of the contribution of nurses in health care and specifically in palliative care during the International Year of the Nurse (2020) and the International Year of the Healthcare worker (2021). The pandemic has also highlighted the vital role that nurses play in healthcare around the world.

With the focus on the year of the nurse the role of palliative nurses around the world has been highlighted in a range of fora such as through the EAPC blog and celebration of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, through the Pioneering Nurses programme at St Christopher’s Hospice and the development of the Lantern Model of Palliative Nursing, and the ICPCN, WHPCA, IHPCA Celebrating Nurses report.   Having been a nurse for over 30 years, this past year has seen me helping out on the in-patient ward at our local hospice during the first six months of the pandemic, and more recently with the vaccination programme, both of which have reminded me of my passion for palliative care, but also for nursing as a profession.

Last year the first ever State of the World’s Nursing report was published by the World Health Organization (WHO) the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now. It recognises the unique role of the nurse in the provision of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and demonstrates a commitment to ongoing progress in nursing development throughout the world, and the need to invest in nursing education, create new jobs, and strengthen nurse leadership.

This report was launched at a time when throughout the world nurses have been taking their place in the fight against COVID-19 with nurses at the forefront of care provision. Globally nurses make up the largest group of professionals working in the health care section accounting for approximately 59% of health professionals. However 80% of nurses are found in countries that account for half of the worlds population, with an estimated global shortage of 5.9 million nurses, with 89% of these in low and middle income countries. Alongside this many nurses are due to retire in the next few years, heightening the shortage of nurses, and also emphasising the need to develop nurses as leaders.

This International Nurses Day, as we focus on Nurses having a voice to lead and shaping the future of our healthcare, we highlight the need to train young palliative care nurses in leadership, to support them to have a voice at the local, national, regional and international levels.

We need to ensure that they have the skills that they need to be advocates for palliative care, to speak up for the children and adults who have palliative care needs, to promote the role of the nurse, and to be seen as leaders as we move palliative care forwards, whilst also recognising the multi-disciplinary nature of palliative care.

Nurses are vital to the provision of palliative care and have a pivotal, dynamic and progressive role in the development of palliative care globally and we need to empower them to do this and to be recognised. Ehospice has been shining the spotlight on some of the palliative care nurses celebrated over the past year. Each one of them having a passion not only for palliative care, but for the art and craft of palliative nursing, and being committed to making a difference in the lives of individuals, young and old, needing access to quality palliative care.

We still have a long way to go to ensure equity of access to palliative care for all in need, a theme to be explored for this years World Hospice and Palliative Care Day on Saturday 9th October. Together, as nurses, and as a multi-disciplinary team, we can make a difference and continue to lead, develop and implement palliative care services around the world.

Prof Julia Downing

  • ICPCN – Chief Executive
  • Honorary/Visiting appointments at Makerere University, Belgrade University, University of Edinburgh, Kings College London, University of South Wales, Edge Hill University
  • Palliative care Education and Research Consortium/ Makerere Mulago Palliative Care Unit, Uganda
  • Ehospice – Board member
  • WHPCA – Board member
  • IAHPC – Advisor to the Board
  • Patron of https://www.hospice23.org

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