Findings identify important gaps in the nursing workforce and priority areas for investment in nursing education, jobs, and leadership to strengthen nursing around the world and improve health for all.
Nurses account for more than half of all the world’s health workers, providing vital services throughout the health system. Historically, as well as today, nurses are at the forefront of fighting epidemics and pandemics that threaten health across the globe. Around the world they are demonstrating their compassion, bravery and courage as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic: never before has their value been more clearly demonstrated.
“Nurses are the backbone of any health system. Today, many nurses find themselves on the frontline in the battle against Covid-19,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General. “This report is a stark reminder of the unique role they play, and a wakeup call to ensure they get the support they need to keep the world healthy.”
The report, by the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and Nursing Now, reveals that today, there are just under 28 million nurses worldwide. Between 2013 and 2018, nursing numbers increased by 4.7 million. But this still leaves a global shortfall of 5.9 million – with the greatest gaps found in countries in Africa, South East Asia and the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region as well as some parts of Latin America.
To equip the world with the nursing workforce it needs, WHO and its partners recommend that all countries:
- Increase funding to educate and employ more nurses
- Strengthen capacity to collect, analyse and act on data about the health workforce
- Monitor nurse mobility and migration and manage it responsibly and ethically
- Educate and train nurses in the scientific, technological and sociological skills they need to drive progress in primary health care
- Establish leadership positions including a government chief nurse and support leadership development among young nurses
- Ensure that nurses in primary health care teams work to their full potential, for example in preventing and managing noncommunicable diseases
- Improve working conditions including through safe staffing levels, fair salaries, and respecting rights to occupational health and safety
- Implement gender-sensitive nursing workforce policies
- Modernise professional nursing regulation by harmonising education and practice standards and using systems that can recognize and process nurses’ credentials globally
- Strengthen the role of nurses in care teams by bringing different sectors (health, education, immigration, finance and labour) together with nursing stakeholders for policy dialogue and workforce planning.
The report’s message is clear: governments need to invest in a massive acceleration of nursing education, creation of nursing jobs, and leadership. Without nurses, midwives, and other health workers, countries cannot win the battle against outbreaks, or achieve universal health coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Prof Julia Downing, Chief Executive of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network and a nurse, commented on the report, saying: “This report is an important milestone in the ongoing development of nursing as a profession.
“We are currently seeing the work of nurses around the world during the Covid-19 pandemic, and we know the importance and value of nursing in the provision of palliative care, and as we strengthen nursing around the world, develop more leaders and improve working conditions, we will strengthen the health system and improve both the quality of care provided and quality of life.”
Read more on the International Children’s edition of ehospice.