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Nurses have an “essential role to play” in enhancing universal health coverage and achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to a new report launched on World Health Day.
But it warned that investment in the profession was also needed to help staff continue to deliver on these objectives, especially in wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The SDGs should underpin post-Covid-19 planning and policy development, with investment in strengthening nursing and midwifery recognised as core to this”
In 2015, United Nation member states agreed to 17 ambitious SGDs which are aimed at delivering transformative change for all people in all countries by 2030.
These include ending poverty and hunger, good health and education for all, access to clean water and sanitation, empowering women and girls, economic growth, and combatting climate change.
A 33-page document, published by the Royal College of Nursing today, showcases the efforts of nurses and midwives working to achieve these goals and offers a list of recommendations to help the professions continue to deliver on them.
As part of this, the report, titled Leaving No-One Behind, highlights examples where nurses are helping to reduce waste by cutting down on disposable healthcare items.
It also shows those who are tackling homelessness in hospital and community settings, and provides examples of nurses promoting mental health and wellbeing, and outreach work with young people at risk of exploitation.
Other examples included in the report are of nurses working to bring an end to female genital mutilation and raising awareness of the health inequalities experienced by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women using maternity services.
Work on the RCN report had started back in 2019 but, as the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, the college said its focus had shifted on to supporting members and the wider profession.
However, it recognised that the pandemic had impacted on the UK population unequally and that those from ethnic minority backgrounds and deprived communities had been “been disproportionately affected”.
The RCN said this revelation had laid bare the populations’ “poor and unequal health and extensive inequalities”.
As the UK looked to rebuild and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the report said that “addressing health inequalities must be a core priority”.
“Concerted and sustained action is needed by governments, stakeholders, and individuals to achieve the SDGs within the decade”
Anne Marie Rafferty
“Nursing has an essential role to play in prevention and enhancing universal health coverage through access to quality and cost-effective health care,” it said.
“The SDGs are a global framework aimed at creating a better and more sustainable world for all. Now more than ever, they must guide our efforts to build back better from this crisis,” it added.
Recommendations in the report included calling on the UK government to “reaffirm its commitment and take necessary actions for achieving the SDGs by 2030”.
“The SDGs should underpin post-Covid-19 planning and policy development, with investment in strengthening nursing and midwifery recognised as core to this,” added the document.
It also urged the government to “prioritise resources towards delivering against the SDGs and addressing the social determinants of health, supported by robust strategies to improve population health and reduce health inequalities”.
In addition, the RCN called for “the return of a chief nursing officer for England at the heart of the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care, to drive informed and effective decision making across government”.
England’s CNO is currently based with government arms’-length body NHS England but advises DHSC ministers on nursing matters. The role has been directly located at the department in the past, in the same way that the CNOs of the other three UK countries are based in government.
Meanwhile, the RCN added that that the SDGs and a focus on health inequalities must also be “integrated into learning models, content and curriculum” for all nursing and midwifery education.
RCN president Dame Professor Anne Marie Rafferty highlighted the work of nursing and midwifery staff around the world, who she said had “risen to the unimaginable challenges and demonstrated skill, expertise, professionalism and extraordinary commitment to putting patients first” throughout the pandemic.
“This has demonstrated the significant contributions nurses and midwives are making to tackling some of the most difficult challenges and injustices facing our communities, including poverty, inequality and climate change,” she said.
“This report highlights just some examples of how nurses and midwives are contributing to the SDGs in the UK,” she added.
“Health – and wider – inequalities are being exacerbated by the pandemic in the UK and across the world. Concerted and sustained action is needed by governments, stakeholders, and individuals to achieve the SDGs within the decade.”
In response to the report, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said CNO for England, Ruth May, “works closely with the department on nursing policies and plays a fundamental role in leading the response to Covid-19”.