Nurses are “too often under-valued and their potential under-estimated”, according to a group of MPs who argue that developing the profession globally would help drive world health.
In a new report, the group stated that nurses are by far the largest part of the health workforce globally and what they do in the future will affect the future of heath and health care provision.
“Strengthening nursing must be a priority for all countries”
Members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health suggested that currently nurses around the world were too often under-valued and their potential under-estimated.
Increasing the nursing workforce and developing the profession to achieve its potential would have a wider “triple impact” of improving health, gender equality and economic growth, they argued.
The group highlighted that delivering “universal health coverage” could not be achieved without nurses and called on the UK to play a leading role in supporting the development of nursing globally.
Nurses around the world have shared their concerns about staffing problems, poor facilities and inadequate education, training and support, resulting in poor quality care, said the group’s report.
“The nursing workforce should not be seen as a cost to be managed or reduced”
Moreover, it said nurses reported they were frequently not permitted to practise to the full extent of their competence and were unable to share learning.
They also had too few opportunities to develop leadership, occupy leadership roles and influence wider policy, added the report from the cross-party special interest group.
The group urged ministers to work with the Commonwealth, Europe, the World Health Organization and others to raise awareness of the opportunities and potential of nursing, creating political commitment, and establishing a process for supporting the development of nursing globally.
The report also said the European Union referendum result meant there was a “significant risk” that the UK would lose much of its overseas nursing workforce and would be unable to recruit more.
It called on the government to both secure the continuing employment of EU citizens in the health and care system, and to reassess and increase levels of nurse education to meet its own needs.
However, it noted that the government also needed to maintain its commitment not to recruit health workers from countries with major shortages.
Group chair and former health minister Dr Daniel Poulter said: “Nurses make an invaluable contribution to caring for patients all over the world and can often be the sole providers of healthcare for many people in lower and middle income countries.
“This report makes strong recommendations about how Britain can better develop and expand upon the valuable contribution made by the nursing workforce to improving global health,” he said.
Lord Nigel Crisp, crossbench peer and former NHS chief executive, added: “Strengthening nursing must be a priority for all countries in the future.
“Too often their work is taken for granted and under-valued, yet they are the backbone of all health services,” he said. “They can do even more in the future with the right support.”
Baroness Mary Watkins, emeritus professor of nursing and the group’s nursing review board member, highlighted that nurses made up the “largest part of the professional health workforce”.
She called for international investment in nursing so the “most vulnerable communities” had better access to healthcare in the future.
The Royal College of Nursing described the report as “significant”, as it “clearly sets out the far-reaching benefits” of properly investing in nursing beyond healthcare.
Status of EU NHS staff needs protection post-Brexit
It noted that nurses were the “backbone” of health services, with the experience and expertise that could drive improvements, but warned that “too often they are ignored”.
Janet Davies, RCN chief executive and general secretary, said: “Britain must lead by example, with the nursing voice at the heart of decision making in the health service.
“In Britain, the need to train more nurses is undeniable, and the vote to leave the EU means that improving the domestic supply of nurses should be an immediate priority,” said Ms Davies.
“This report makes abundantly clear that the nursing workforce should not be seen as a cost to be managed or reduced, but an investment in our future health, economic prosperity and gender equality,” she added.