ICN CEO Howard Catton lays out the global challenges facing nursing in 2023

13 January 2023
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ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton has written about the challenges facing the nursing profession in 2023. In an article entitled The Most Pressing Need is to Bring People Together, published in the United Kingdom journal Nursing Times, Mr Catton argues that global warming, ongoing conflicts between and within countries, chronic underfunding and the worldwide shortage of nurses are blighting healthcare services and making it difficult for patients to access the care they need.

These issues are also fuelling industrial strife in many countries as nurses express their disaffection with the way they are being treated, which is in stark contrast to the accolades and applause they received at the height of the pandemic.

The article says ICN’s #nursesforpeace campaign has shown the generosity of nurses in wanting to help their beleaguered colleagues and demonstrated the solidarity of nurses everywhere.

With the global shortage of nurses estimated by some to be up to 30 million by 2030, the cumulative effects of decades of politicians’ unwillingness to fund health services properly is evident.

In many countries, the public understands this situation better than their politicians, and their ongoing support for nurses is crucial at a time when the profession is growing in confidence and increasingly standing up for its rights by taking industrial action.

The article reiterates ICN’s commitment to its efforts to bring people together, and to remain engaged and influential in the development of global health policies through its work with the World Health Organization and others.

It ends with the assertion that the road to a better future for everyone will be paved in part by more investment in the nursing profession.

See below the full text of the op-ed, courtesy of Nursing Times

It is nearly a year since ICN established its #nursesforpeace campaign in response to the tragic events in Ukraine following the Russian invasion on February 24 2022.

At the time, some thought it was merely a gesture, but the generosity of the response from nurses globally has been remarkable. I think this is because the pain of such conflicts resonated around the world, and because nurses know that the healing and care that they deliver are prerequisites for the stability, peace and security that everybody craves.

As we go into 2023 it is clear that the global conflicts and challenges of 2022 continue, and that our futures, and arguably our very survival, require novel solutions through a different kind of leadership. The world needs the courage and vision to find a different way forward, and I truly believe that nurses have a leading part to play as peacemakers in making the world the better place it needs to be.

In 2022, ICN highlighted the increasing global shortage of nurses - which could be as large as to 30 million by 2030 by some accounts - and the growing number of nurses who are expressing their desire to leave the profession.

All of this has been accompanied by a growing sense of anger and betrayal among nurses about their pay and conditions of service, and the dangers to patients of underfunded health systems. This has led to a large number of disputes and even strike action in many places around the world, including, of course, the UK.

For students of market forces, the 50,000 shortage of nurses in the UK demonstrates quite clearly that they are a scarce resource, and as such, their market value – that is, the cost to their employers – must go up. I think one of the reasons the true value of nursing work is not being recognised is because nursing is a 90% female profession, and sexism is at play resulting in the economic value of nursing not being recognised. The pandemic cost the world trillions and economies collapsed demonstrating plainly how health spending is not a drag on finances but an investment and a driver for growth and prosperity.

It is perfectly justifiable for nurses who remember the applause and the accolades they received during the worst days of the pandemics to feel aggrieved by the lack of respect they are now being shown. They now find themselves exhausted, under paid, working harder than ever, in rickety services that are bulging at the seams, understaffed, underfunded and undermined by the inaction of politicians who are supposed to ensure the health of the nation. The public gets it, and in many countries, they are ahead of their politicians.

This isn’t the result of what has happened in the last 12 months, or even the events of the past three years: it is the snowball effect of years of historical underfunding and lack of recognition, and undervaluing of the profession, all of which were highlighted and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is crucial that the nursing profession retains the support and trust of the public during these challenging times, and that coalition is a hugely powerful axis from which we can ensure healthcare is protected for all, rather than a privilege for those who can afford it.

But all is not doom and gloom. The pandemic showed the world the true value of nursing and what nurses can do to keep us all safe from a global health threat like the pandemic. It also showed the solutions that nurses bring to addressing the future healthcare needs all countries are facing.

And now, with renewed confidence in itself, the profession is rising up and asserting itself like never before, all around the world.

ICN has responded to various global conflicts and crises, and to the greatest threat of all, climate change.

We see those conflicts and crises, and what concerns us most is that global challenges require global solutions that go beyond national borders. We need governments to come together to find a path through reconciliation and compromise that can lead to health, peace and security for all.

ICN continues to influence healthcare around the globe to ensure that new agreements have the teeth they need to make the required changes. ICN President Dr Pamela Cipriano is a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) Universal Health Coverage(UHC) 2030 Steering Committee, we are working with the World Health Organization’s Intergovernmental Negotiating Body on the new Pandemic Prevention Treaty, and we continue, with our National Nursing Association members, to tackle the big healthcare challenges all governments face, including climate change, non-communicable diseases and affordable access to healthcare.

Too many governments are entrenched and not prepared to talk. From the UK government’s refusal to talk to nurses about their pay, to warring governments refusing to discuss peace, the world seems increasingly polarised. What we need instead are politicians who can demonstrate the same levels of courage their nurses showed during the pandemic, politicians who are brave enough to move from conflict to negotiation, arbitration, agreement and resolution.

The most pressing need of all is to bring people together, and nurses can do that by focusing on the importance of healthcare to the security and prosperity of us all.

This year’s ICN Congress in Montreal, Canada, in July, will be a place for nurses to focus on these and other issues, and to come together as the profession that is leading the way in responding to the dreadful global challenges that are affecting us all.

One thing is sure: the road to global peace, security and economic prosperity, will be paved in large part by greater investment in nurses and healthcare.