The confirmed number of nurses who have died after contracting COVID-19 globally has soared to 1,500 but the true figure is undoubtedly much higher, the latest analysis by the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has revealed.
In April, ICN first reported that 100 nurses had died after contracting COVID-19. The number of nurse deaths grew to 260 in May, 600 by June, and 1,097 by August. The latest analysis, drawn from 44 countries where data was available, confirmed 1,500 nurses have died from the virus. But ICN says the figure is known to be an underestimate of the real number of deaths.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, ICN has been calling for safe work environments, protection of the healthcare workforce and standardised data collection on healthcare worker infections and deaths.
Its analysis suggests that about 10% of COVID-19 cases globally involve healthcare workers. It estimates that healthcare worker COVID-19 fatalities globally now exceed 20,000.
Addressing the Nightingale 2020 virtual conference earlier this week, ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton labelled the fact that as many nurses have now died during the COVID-19 pandemic as World War I “shocking”.
“Since May 2020, we have been calling for the standardised and systematic collection on healthcare worker infections and deaths, and the fact that is still not happening is a scandal,” Mr Catton said.
“2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth, and I am sure she would have been immensely saddened and angry about this lack of data. Florence demonstrated during the Crimean War how the collection and analysis of data can improve our understanding of risks to health, improve clinical practices and save lives, and that includes nurses and healthcare workers. There is a chasm between the warm words and accolades, and the action that needs to be taken.”
A report released by ICN last month highlighted data from a survey of 33 of its National Nurses Associations in 32 countries with high numbers of COVID-19 caseloads. A survey was undertaken to examine issues related to nurses and other healthcare workers during COVID-19, including the number of infections and deaths, personal protective equipment (PPE) supply, infection prevention and control training and occupational violence.
Key findings revealed 45% of the NNA’s indicated moderate to severe shortages of PPE in long-term care facilities in their countries, and more than 70% of NNA’s surveyed reported incidents of violence or discrimination against frontline healthcare workers due to COVID-19, including verbal aggression, physical assaults and psychological harm.
Speaking following the Nightingale 2020 virtual conference, Mr Catton said nurses would have a major role to play as the world recovers after COVID-19.
“Our experience and the data we have means we have a very powerful and legitimate voice that we must use to influence health systems of the future,” he said.
Noting reports of demonstrations and strikes by some nurses in Europe over the handling of the pandemic, Mr Catton said the backlash was unsurprising.
“I’m not surprised that we are at this point because we went into this pandemic so badly prepared, with a lack of investment, six million nurses short and some governments’ slowness to respond appropriately,” he argued.
“This is a major lesson for the future. When this is over, we must never take our health systems for granted again, and we must invest much more heavily in them and our health workers.
“Nurses are angry about the lack of preparedness, but they are also angry about the lack of support that they have received. We need to move on from the warm words into real action, because none of us are going to cope and our economies won’t recover if we don’t keep our healthcare workers and nurses working and able to look after all of us.”
ANMF Federal Secretary Annie Butler praised the extraordinary efforts of nurses putting their lives on the line to care for others during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We honour the sacrifice of our global nursing colleagues who have lost their lives to this pandemic.”