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In a normal year I would write my editorial comment for the week of International Nurses’ Day before the event. The need to address pay, staff shortages and healthcare policy would almost certainly feature heavily.
This year, even before Covid-19 came to dominate our lives I already had the additional subjects of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife and the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale’s birth to reflect on.
But, given the extraordinary times we are living through, this year I wanted to look back on how the day was treated by the profession and the world in general.
“The profession was declaring that it is time for the world to show its appreciation for what nurses do”
There were no parties this year and – as far as I could see – fewer cakes than usual. And all the special events and ceremonies planned for the bicentenary had been shelved.
However, while the day was more reflective than it would have been without Covid-19, there was a determination to celebrate the profession and acknowledge its pivotal position in tackling the crisis.
This felt different to the annual opportunity for nurses around the world to celebrate their achievements together; rather the profession was declaring that it is time for the world to show its appreciation for what nurses do.
That it is time to properly value a modern profession whose highly skilled members are at the heart of the response to this global crisis, working with competence and compassion – and often at great personal risk.
And it is also time to finally dispense with tired, outdated clichés of nurses, and for the profession have its voice heard on healthcare policy rather than being overlooked until it is needed to address the results of those policies.
From the World Health Organization down, nurse leaders and their organisations were thanking staff for their incredible efforts and, in some cases sacrifice, in facing the challenge of the pandemic.
And many renewed pledges to fight for causes such as better pay and appropriate investment, and to transform the perception of nursing so that its skills and expertise will be properly valued in future.
One would hope success in the first two of those causes should be slightly easier to achieve over the coming months than it has been for the past decade – although sustaining them in the long term may be more challenging: the political memory is notoriously short.
The government and other decision makers must address the issues of pay and workforce shortages urgently, especially after the debacle over PPE and testing. Nurses need recognition and recompense for what they have been through.
Perception and value will always be far more challenging issues to tackle. However, we must hope that there are some positive outcomes of this global tragedy, and that one of these is that we have reached a turning point in public and political perceptions of nursing.
The work of nurses across all health and social care settings must never again be dismissed or undervalued. I hope you had a good International Nurses’ Day and thank you for all that you do.