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A renewed global interest in nursing careers influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic is being undermined by discontent and disputes over pay and working conditions, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has warned.

According to the ICN, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the public has become increasingly aware of the essential work that nurses do and the difference they make. As a result, nursing has never been more highly valued in the eyes of the public. This has also led to a surge in interest in nursing careers, especially in higher-income countries.

However, the organisation has cautioned that ongoing disputes are in danger of putting off the next generation of nurses, especially in the countries that are most in need of expanding their nursing workforce.

A new report based on the latest survey of its National Nursing Associations (NNAs), launched by the ICN this week, revealed increasing evidence of disputes over pay and terms and conditions of employment, violence and intimidation.

More than 20% of NNAs surveyed expressed significant concerns and unrest related to pay of nurses in their countries. In addition, the report showed further effects of the pandemic, including the delay in nursing students being able to finish their courses, which is slowing down the supply of newly qualified nurses by between six and 12 months in some countries. Furthermore, the disruption of essential professional development training for qualified nurses, which is needed to keep up to date with the latest practice, was also affected.

Additionally, the COVID Effect is a growing and far-reaching phenomenon that is having a profound impact on the individual nurses’ professional and personal lives. Lack of personal protective equipment, long and stressful shifts are severely impacting their mental health, resulting in nurses leaving or planning to leave the profession, the ICN said.

However, with the world facing a shortage of at least ten million nurses over the next decade, it was vital that existing nurses stay in their jobs and that a new generation could be attracted into the profession, the ICN advised.

“Nurses have had a terrible year, but perhaps for the first time ever, the public has seen in detail the traumas they have faced and the effects these have had on nurses’ health and wellbeing,” ICN President Annette Kennedy said.

“But despite the hardships on show, many people have realised the importance and true value of nursing and expressed a willingness to join the profession so that they too can experience what it is like to provide care in the unique way only nurses can.

“Governments should act quickly to ensure that there are well-signposted pathways into nursing so that we can start to recruit the next generation as soon as possible.

Being a nurse is the most rewarding job on Earth, but nurses also need to be able to pay their bills and feed and support their families. So, today, I am calling on governments to invest in nurses’ pay and education for now and the future.”

ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton said that the COVID Effect was a growing and far-reaching phenomenon that was profoundly impacting nurses across the globe.

“There is now a chasm between the rhetoric of governments about how they value nurses and their practical responses to the challenges that nurses are facing every day. This disconnect is resulting in increasing discontent among the world’s nurses, resulting in protests and disputes that risk undermining recruitment and retention in the profession.

“The primary responsibility of elected leaders is to keep people safe, but COVID-19 has shown that you simply cannot do that without real and sustained investment in nurses and the healthcare workforce. This is a commitment that must be written into the heart of the post pandemic treaty that world leaders are now negotiating.”