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27 October 2021 • College News

Dr Annette Kennedy, President of the International Council of Nurses, represent millions of health workers around the world.

Below is an edited version of her address to the WHO 

To download the full address go to: https://www.who.int/publications/m/item/covid-19-virtual-press-conference-transcript—21-october-2021 

Thank you. Thank you, Dr Tedros, and thank you, WHO, for giving me the opportunity to speak on behalf of the International Council of Nurses and on behalf of the 27 million nurses that I represent.

I wish it was a better day today. I wish it was a day that we would celebrate that all healthcare workers had been vaccinated or that we had come to the end of COVID-19, but it is not that day. It is a day when we’re hearing about 115,000 health workers who have died, many needlessly, many we could have saved.

We know from ICN that that’s an underestimate of the number that have actually died. We welcome the publication of the data, but we still grieve for those who have lost their lives. They have sacrificed their lives for other people who they have tried to save.

Is it that healthcare workers’ lives mean so little? Is it that we cannot look after them and protect them? Is it that governments do not realise that they have a duty of care to their health workers, the most valuable resource?

It’s a shocking indictment of governments. It’s a shocking indictment of their lack of duty of care to protect healthcare workers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives.

00:08:24

Nurses – and I speak for nurses although we’re talking about all healthcare workers – went into this pandemic six million nurses short. Not only that but globally the world was not prepared for the pandemic. It had weak health systems, it had un-resilient health systems. Now we find that nurses have left orphan children and they have left many family members behind without compensation or recompense because it’s not looked on as an occupational health injury.

We have been calling for systematic standardized data collection for over a year-and-a-half. We know from our associations, 135 associations throughout the world that many nurses have become infected, and many have died.

We also know that nurses are burnt-out. They have given their all for a year-and-a-half or two years. They have worked long hours. They have worked without breaks and they have been called to do a duty without protective equipment and without support.

00:09:42

They are now burnt-out. They’re devastated. They are physically and mentally exhausted and there is a prediction that 10% of them will leave within a very short time.

Added to the six million nurses that we our short our estimates show that in the next ten years or less we will lose 4.7 million nurses who are due to retire before 2020 [sic], mainly from North America and the European countries.

That makes 10.7 million nurses. Add 10% more to that from the associations that we know that have said there’s an intention of at least 10% to leave the profession. That makes 30 million nurses. 30 million is 50% of the current workforce.

No health system can survive without that many nurses. No health system can even function without 50% of its workforce and we have seen that nurses are now going into different jobs already.

The most educated of our profession are looking for agency work so that they can make two, three and four times the salary but work a third of the time. That reduces the number in the workforce.

00:11:10

So what are governments going to do? What are they going to do to protect our workforce. If you were to see a plane crash every day for a week the whole aviation industry would close down. In fact the world would be investigating it yet there’s no investigation into the 115,000 healthcare workers who have died.

Are we not valuable? Are we not valuable to society? Are we not valuable because we put our lives at risk? There is something seriously wrong and we all have responsibility and what we would find is that the lack of sharing of vaccines across the world because countries are only vaccinating their own and they’re going into booster doses and they have vaccines that have not been used because they have a choice and they have decided that through misinformation or disinformation they’re not using their vaccines.

But they are left unused and yet we have other countries crying out for vaccines, particularly healthcare workers and yet those same countries would be aggressively recruiting very quickly nurses from those countries who cannot afford to lose their nurses or their healthcare workers.

00:12:38

So I am sad, I am devastated, I am upset that so many people have lost their lives and that still our governments fail to protect the healthcare workers that they need most. So when is this going to stop? When are they going to step up to the plate and take the responsibility seriously?

They need to vaccinate all their healthcare workers. They need to invest and they need to retain their health workforce. So I urge all governments, I urge all people and I even urge the media to ensure that we make this clear. There is another crisis coming down the tracks and that is a shortage of healthcare workers. Thank you.

Q to Annette Kennedy – “you’re asking if healthcare workers like nurses should get a third dose. Is that what I heard?

JE           Correct.

AN         Of course, if we are talking about the safety of healthcare workers, we would agree with what the evidence suggests. However what we are saying too is we would like to see equity in distribution of vaccines across the world, not just in high-income countries receiving vaccines, two vaccines or three vaccines or booster doses.

That would be ICN’s ethos in relation to healthcare workers, equity of vaccines across the world to protect everybody so that’s where ICN would be coming from. But of course we would do everything in our power to protect the healthcare workers because we need them. The loss of one more life is a loss too much.

AN final comment – Yes, just very quickly. I suppose what I would like to see is standardized data collection across all countries and fed to WHO. I would like to see implementation of safety and protective measures and just as an aside all of the PPEs were designed for men, not for women yet 90% of nurses are women, 70% of all healthcare workers are women. It’s interesting that they were designed not safely for women.

 

That there would be mental and physical support, that there will be vaccination for all healthcare workers by the end of the year and that there would be incentives to retain staff, particularly older staff, nurses in the workforce. There’re lots of recommendations on how to do that both by ICN and by WHO, and to build capacity in home countries, not to be aggressively recruiting from other countries.

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