UK nurses are urgently needed to support efforts to tackle the ebola outbreak in West Africa due to a shortage of volunteers and local staff, a leading frontline medical charity has warned.
International Medical Corps said hundreds of international nursing staff were required immediately, with thousands more needed over the coming months.
“We really encourage nurses in the UK who feel this is a calling for them to come and give six weeks of their time”
One of its senior nurses told Nursing Times it was relying on international recruitment to “catch up” with the provision of care needed for patients infected with the virus.
Speaking from his base in West Africa, Andrew Gleadle, the charity’s director of programme performance and development, urged UK nurses to join the effort.
“We really encourage nurses in the UK who feel this is a calling for them to come and give six weeks of their time – but they need to think about the experience they’re going to have,” he said.
Mr Gleadle is currently setting up two new 100-bed treatment units in Sierra Leone. He said the shortage of staff was down to a lack of local nurses – many of whom had died when the outbreak first began and protective equipment had been in short supply.
He told Nursing Times that a greater number of nurses were needed than in other emergency response situations, because of the two-hour shift pattern in operation. The short shift pattern was necessary because of a combination of the climate and vital protective equipment.
“When you are working in an ebola environment, once you have donned the equipment, we don’t have air conditioning and the tropical heat is incredibly hot and humid – so you can easily lose half a stone on a shift,” he said. “You get very hot and tired quickly, and then tend to make more mistakes in using the protective equipment.”
He highlighted that nurses were also serving an important role in the response to the virus due to their higher likelihood than doctors to have been involved in end of life care.
He said: “The sad reality is that when someone comes to a treatment centre the statistics seem to demonstrate at the moment that 55% of people who come will die – out of confirmed cases – and about 45% will recover.”
Mr Gleadle also cautioned that the intensity of the death and suffering that they would experience in the outbreak zone meant UK nurses that volunteered needed psychological preparation.
“As nurses you are not normally on a shift expecting that level of mortality. A lot of kids have been affected and it’s harrowing, so people need to be prepared for that experience,” he said.
The World Health Organization declared the ebola outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern” in the summer and called for hundreds of healthcare staff to help combat the disease.
At least 164 NHS workers are thought to have answered a separate call from the Department of Health to help battle the ebola outbreak in West Africa.
Earlier this week, nursing assistant in Spain became the first person known to have caught ebola outside of West Africa during the current outbreak. The individual – who has not been named – was part of a medical team treating a priest who died from the virus in a Madrid hospital late last month.
Meanwhile, Will Pooley, a UK nurse who contracted the virus while volunteering in West Africa, was discharged on 3 September after making a full recovery.