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How disaster response could benefit from nursing expertise

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Deputy Chief Nurse at Public Health England, Joanne Bosanquet, explains how nurses have the exact skills and expertise needed to tackle health emergencies

Nurses and midwives are the largest global professional healthcare workforce group. In 2013, there were 19.7 million of us.

Recently the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health report on nursing[1] highlighted the importance of nursing expertise from front line, person-centred holistic care right up to service design and policy-making at the World Health Organisation level. Alongside this, the 68th World Assembly in 2015 reiterated the central importance of the workforce, especially in relation to global health emergencies.

“We need health and care professionals with a comprehensive skill set”

In the face of health emergencies such as the flu pandemic in 2009, Ebola in 2014/2015, or more local emergencies such as the flooding in north west of England last year, we need health and care professionals with a comprehensive skill set.

In times of global health crises we need health professionals with leadership and planning skills, specialist and technical skills. We need teamwork, resilience and humility. And in challenging times we need humour too.

Nurses have these skills but we are not always round the table during the planning phase or when crises happen.

”It may not feel as though getting involved with emergency response planning should be a priority”

If you work in an organisation like the NHS, local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups or Public Health England, you will have an emergency plan and associated procedures. You might even have a regular exercise to test out these procedures. But do you feel part of the response?

It may not feel as though getting involved with emergency response planning should be a priority. But having been directly involved a number of times and at various levels, I know that nursing expertise is paramount at the planning stages and during the actual event or exercise. Learning lessons and engaging in the recovery phase is as important as the actual event itself. Rebuilding, restoring and rehabilitating are vital parts of the process and this is a key area where nurses have a crucial role.

But getting involved can be easier said than done. If you want to get more involved in crisis work, you can volunteer. Once you start to look, it’s amazing what you will find. Your local Resilience Forum may have a volunteering committee and will certainly need volunteers when they test out their multi-agency emergency plans. Also look out for opportunities locally through voluntary organisations such as The British Red Cross.

Internally, your organisation may have an Emergency Planning Officer, so why not get in touch with them?

You can volunteer to be deployed abroad too. Look at UK-Med for more information or one of the international charities such as Save The Children or VSO. Benefits include leadership development, shared innovation, enhancing international relations and “real world challenges as opposed to classroom learning” (APPG, 2016).

The most important global policy guide for us is the recently published Sendai Framework. The Sendai Framework provides the platform for risk reduction and preparedness plans to incorporate the professional views and advice of nurses at all levels of the system.

Joanne Bosanquet MBE, Deputy Chief Nurse, Public Health England


[1] APPG (2016) Triple Impact. How developing nursing will improve health, promote gender equality and support economic growth.

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