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Nursing shortages still a concern in Asia

17 December 2018

Participants of ICN’s Asian Nurses Workforce Forum highlight urgent need for increased nurse staffing


Geneva, Switzerland; Hong Kong, China; 14 December 2018 – Asian nurse leaders from ten nursing associations, representing approximately six million nurses from the region, attended the 19th Asian Workforce Forum of the International Council of Nurses (ICN). They stressed that, despite slight overall increases in nurse staffing levels in some of their countries, the supply still did not meet the demand for health care.

All ten countries and regions still face the challenge of nurse shortages caused by increasing demand, driven by population growth and ageing. The participants agreed that there is an urgent need to increase nurse staffing in order to achieve safe levels for patients and the population, and that nurse retention must also be improved.

“Retention and training of in-country nurses is the key to addressing shortages,” said Annette Kennedy, President of ICN. “While nurses should be free to travel and work in other countries, aggressive recruitment of overseas nurses is unethical and may result in the depletion of nurses from low-income countries such as the Philippines. Investment in the nursing profession is needed in order to address the issues raised by the Workforce Forum participants.”

Nurses should be empowered and supported to take on collaborative leadership roles in interprofessional health care teams – outlined the participants of this Forum, co-hosted by the College of Nursing Hong Kong. They urged all countries to instate a Chief Nursing Officer role at the executive level to provide expert input on nursing to government, advice and direction on health policy, and collaboration with other nurse leaders to develop the nursing profession.

The participants of the Forum strongly supported the need for all countries to consider the growing evidence base on the cost effectiveness of nurses working in advanced roles and ensuring that there are no barriers to nurses working at the full extent of the scope of their practice. This is notably the case in primary health care (PHC) where evidence highlights that nurses in advanced roles, and nurse led services, can provide effective care, achieve positive health outcomes for patients and improve self-management.

The nurse leaders fully endorsed the global Nursing Now campaign which advocates and provides evidence for nurses to be fully involved in policy making on nursing and care issues. Nurses have a central and critical role in delivering Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and in driving the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The evidence of their contribution must be more completely recorded and made accessible to inform effective policy decisions. This will require collaborative efforts of stakeholders including governments (ministries of health, education and finance) and other stakeholders such as ICN, the World Health Organization and National Nursing Associations.

The participants called on all nations and National Nursing Associations to firmly support, and require their governments to implement, the key recommendations of the UN Commission on Health Employment and Economic Growth which highlighted that investment in nursing and other health sector employment is an economic driver, can improve social inclusion and can provide career opportunities to many women.

Howard Catton, Director of ICN’s Nursing Policy Department, who chaired this meeting, also highlighted the upcoming research that will quantify the number of nurses and their roles across the world, the World Health Organisation led State of the World’s Nursing Report that is to be published in 2020. He underlined the important role that Asian Nursing Associations would have with this work. “It’s a huge opportunity for us to have for the very first time a global picture of the nursing workforce that will provide hard evidence to inform and drive both future health and workforce policies. ICN will be co-chairing this work and are committed to working with our Associations to support its development” he said.

The Forum communiqué can be found here.

The ICN’s Asian Workforce Forum is an annual gathering that probes and debates nursing workforce issues and working conditions. ICN also holds an International Workforce Forum which stimulates thinking and enhances learning to ultimately develop proactive strategies. The Forums also assist to maintain the relevance of ICN programmes and support international work.

Note for Editors

The International Council of Nurses (ICN) is a federation of more than 130 national nurses’ associations representing the millions of nurses worldwide. Operated by nurses and leading nursing internationally, ICN works to ensure quality care for all and sound health policies globally.

For further information please contact

Gyorgy Madarasz, Press Officer, International Council of Nurses, Tel: +41 22 908 01 16