The International Council of Nurses (ICN) condemns verbal and physical attacks on frontline nurses and calls on governments to act now to protect these vital healthcare staff.
Anxiety and overwork are taking their toll on the mental health and wellbeing of nurses, increasing the risk of post-traumatic and other stress related disorders. But the stigma of working with COVID-19 patients has led to abuse and aggression from members of the public, which is adding to nurses’ distress and must be stopped if they are to be able to carry on their essential work.
ICN President Annette Kennedy said:
“There is strong evidence that nurses are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and are at risk of burnout, threatening their ability to continue to do their vital work. Governments have a duty of care to their nurses, which should mirror the appreciation and support nurses are getting every day from the vast majority of the public.
‘Nurses are a precious resource at the best of times, and during this pandemic even more so. ICN is calling for action now from governments and healthcare organisations to act to protect them from senseless verbal and physical attacks that are adding to their distress and fear.”
The subject of violence against nurses was raised during a series of ICN webinars, including this week during the webinar with Latin American nurses, and also at the launch of the World Health Organization/ICN/Nursing Now State of the World’s Nursing report.
ICN CEO Howard Catton said:
“It is extremely alarming that nurses are being stigmatised for their life-saving work with patients who have COVID-19. The fact that they are also facing abuse and even violence is staggering. We understand that such stigma, abuse and violence are based on ignorance, fear and a lack of information, but it is totally unacceptable. ICN is calling for zero tolerance policies to be put in place at once, because no nurse should have to endure verbal or physical attacks ever, and especially not now.
‘This issue is a concern everywhere, whether countries are about to come out of lockdown or are just going into quarantine. It is vital that governments ensure that the public is properly informed about COVID-19 so that the generally overwhelming support for nurses that we have seen around the world does not see them shunned in the future because of the contact they have had with patients.
‘Nurses have always worked under intense psychological pressure, but the current pandemic is making extraordinary demands on them both physically and mentally. We must support them right now to deal with any immediate mental health issues, and to prevent some of the mental health consequences that may not be apparent now but may emerge in the future.”
ICN mental health messages for governments and healthcare organisations
ICN is currently concluding a consultation process with a group of global experts on developing a new Mental Health position statement.
However, ICN recognises that, because of the urgency of COVID-19, there is a vital and pressing need for more mental health support for our frontline nurses. Therefore, below we have drawn together our COVID-19 mental health core guidance and recommendations for nurses, which we aim to expand on in the coming weeks and add to our COVID-19 portal.
ICN Mental Health Core Guidance and Recommendations for Nurses
Actions by NNAs, nurse managers, colleagues, co-workers and friends can prevent and mitigate mental health issues:
1. Connect nurses with resources in communities and worldwide:
2. Avoid labels and stigma: do not link the disease to ethnicities or geography, or label persons with COVID-19 as ‘cases’ or ‘victims’.
3. Make information on mental health services easily available to staff and colleagues: early interventions ensure a healthier future
4. Support teamwork: experienced and newer workers will respond differently. Assess and assign less stressful work when required. Make sure information on workplans, changes in policy and resources are timely and frequent.
5. Create a ‘safe space’ for all nurses. Everyone is at risk for psychological distress, overreliance on negative coping mechanisms, negative emotions and destabilisation of existing psychiatric conditions. Reach out to staff who are quarantined to decrease the effects of isolation.
6. Stay with facts and trusted sources like NNAs, professional organisations, educational institutions and public health agencies.
7. Use creative strategies to monitor workloads with the aim of reducing fatigue and exhaustion.
8. Encourage, empower and acknowledge nursing leadership. Effective nurse leaders are essential to defuse high pressure work situations and facilitate quick decision making. Build a culture that strengthens resilience for individuals and teams.
Download the press release here