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World leaders sign 'historic' agreement to boost profile of nursing

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World health leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to raising the profile of nurses and midwives across the globe.

They met yesterday to officially sign an “historic” pledge to help members of these professions realise their full potential as part of the Nursing Now campaign.

“A lot of nurses from different countries say we feel invisible and we could do more if we are enabled to do it”

Nigel Crisp

During a conference in Geneva, a memorandum of understanding was rubber-stamped by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), Lord Nigel Crisp, co-chair of Nursing Now, Dr Isabelle Skinner, chief executive of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), and Alan Gibbs, chair of the Burdett Trust for Nursing.

Nursing Now is a three-year effort to improve health globally by 2020 by raising the status of nurses and midwifes and helping them to recognise the vital part they can play in achieving universal health coverage.

A joint collaboration between WHO and ICN, the campaign is sponsored by the Burdettt Trust. The Duchess of Cambridge is a patron.

Dr Adhanom launched the global initiative in Geneva in February and more than 40 countries have since joined, with dozens more planned.

“Nursing was in a bit of a crisis with many nurses thinking about retiring”

Isabelle Skinner

Speaking at the signing, Lord Crisp, a former chief executive of NHS England, said: “Fundamentally health care is about people and it’s about multidisciplinary teams and our observation from the parliamentary group which I co-chaired was that half the professionals in the world in health are nurses and midwives and that they have an extraordinary contribution to play.

“Looking at that team they were also very often the most undervalued and underdeveloped group within the team not able to work as it was said to me by Americas to the top of their licence,” he said. “Not able to do everything they have been trained to do.

“And we heard in parliament a lot of nurses from different countries say we feel invisible and we could do more if we are enabled to do it,” said Lord Crisp.

“So, if we want a very simple message about what this campaign is about it is this – that one of the biggest things we can do to improve health globally is to empower nurses,” he said.

“Without nurses and midwives for the frontlines, universal health coverage cannot happen”

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Lord Crisp added that the aim of Nursing Now was to “change people’s mindsets” about the role of nurses and midwives.

“Even though I have worked in health for 30 years it’s only when we did this study in parliament that I realised what a waste in resource we had in nurses – not that they don’t do fantastic things because they do but what more they could do,” he said.

“That was the message nurses gave us and it’s that change in mindset I’ve gone through that we are trying to get countries around the world and policy makers to really think about what nurses could do,” he noted.

Dr Skinner, a registered nurse and midwife, said the ICN was “100% behind” Nursing Now and that the campaign was giving young nurses “something to believe in”.

She added: “Nursing was in a bit of a crisis with many nurses thinking about retiring and so one of the key things about Nursing Now is it helps young nurses to see there is a future in nursing, that there are opportunities, that you can work to the top of your licence and the world is behind you.”

International Council of Nurses

Dr Isabelle Skinner

Isabelle Skinner

Mr Gibbs said he believed Nursing Now would become an “historic 21st century milestone in the progress of the global nursing profession”.

Dr Ghebreyesus said this was a campaign with a “cause” – to achieve universal health coverage.

Universal health coverage is a WHO drive to ensure all communities around the world can access the health services they need regardless of wealth.

Expressing why he first agreed to support Nursing Now, Dr Ghebreyesus added: “Without nurses and midwives for the frontlines, universal health coverage cannot happen, that’s it. So, I saw opportunities, I saw a force that can really play a big role.”

Nursing Now could not just be a global movement and must be supported at country level, Dr Ghebreyesus insisted, and that other other health professionals needed to be mobilised to celebrate the role of nurses and midwives.

World Health Organization

Global campaign to launch to raise nursing’s status

Source: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development

Tedros Adhanom

He said the campaign must also be “grassroots” and “owned by the nurses themselves”.

Dr Ghebreyesus also revealed during the signing that there was internal working going on at WHO to establish “innovative” ways to address global shortages of nurses and midwives.

He said: “Nurses and midwives are the majority of the workforce but still we have shortages and if we recognise the roles of nurses we do two things: one, we need to recognise those already in the field and help them recognise their role, but at the same time it means filling the gap. There is a lot of gaps we need to fill in terms of nures and midwives in many countries.” 

Dr Adhanom said 2020 – the deadline for Nursing Now campaign and the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale – would be the global year of nursing. 


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