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Nurse retention 'critical' as world faces nine million shortage by 2030

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Stopping nurses from leaving their jobs prematurely is now a “critical issue” for governments around the world as staff shortages escalate, a global nursing leader has warned.

Howard Catton, new chief executive of the International Council of Nurses, issued the caution as he highlighted that latest predications indicated a nine million shortage of nurses by 2030.

“There is no single answer to the problem of nursing shortages, no silver bullet”

Howard Catton

“Retention is now a critical issue that needs urgent attention from governments as we risk losing nurses faster than we can train them,” he said.

Mr Catton noted that many of those quitting were experts in their field taking with them decades of vital experience.

“These nurses are essential for the delivery of high quality and safe care, but also for teaching, supporting and mentoring the next generations,” Mr Catton added.

Latest figures from the Nursing and Midwifery Council show in the year leading to September 2018, just over 2,500 more nurses and midwives left the UK register than joined it for the first time.

And while the overall number of nurses and midwives on the NMC register is at its highest level for at least five years when taking into account those rejoining, estimates currently suggest the NHS in England alone has more than 40,000 nurse vacancies. 

Mr Catton spoke out about the issue in the wake of new findings from the ICN’s international workforce forum, which was held in Beirut, Lebanon, last month.

The event saw nurse leaders from Canada, Denmark, Japan, Sweden and Lebanon gather to discuss the global nurse shortages.

The forum noted that in most countries around the world around a third of nurses had declared an intention to leave the profession.

The group collated a list of common themes affecting nurses globally:

  • Staff shortages
  • Poor working conditions
  • Increased violence in the workplace
  • Mandatory overtime
  • Problems with recruitment and retention
  • Unfair, unequal and inadequate renumeration

Mr Catton stressed the importance of addressing these issues in order to keep hold of nurses.

“There is no single answer to the problem of nursing shortages, no silver bullet, but as our recent policy brief showed, we need to implant a range of actions to foster positive and supportive working environments, including fair pay, safe staffing, professional and career development, and the absence of violence, bullying and harassment,” he said.

Dr Myrna Abi Abdallah Doumit, president of the Order of Nurses in Lebanon, said supportive and safe work environments, appropriate financial packages and respect were key to retention.

The forum members recognised the need to develop “progressive policies” to help meet expectations of younger nurses to encourage them to stay in the profession.

In addition, they called for a change to a more “positive narrative” around nurse migration, adding that nurses moving around the world was “vital to combatting workforce challenges internationally”.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Continue to underpay nurses and the profession will continue to haeorrhage staff. This will then mean the public will have the nurses they pay for: bad pay brings bad nurses. Eventually even they might give up. If that's what it takes to show the world what nurses are worth, So be it.

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