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Global nursing leaders have developed a 10-point plan to improve support for older nurses at work in a bid to prevent their skills and experience being lost to the profession as worldwide nursing shortages loom.

The report, Ageing Well? Policies to support older nurses at work, builds on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) State of the World’s Nursing (SOWN) report by outlining actions needed to retain older nurses in the workplace.

Undertaken by the International Centre on Nurse Migration (ICNM), the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and CGFNS International, the report’s 10-point plan outlines a range of strategies, including understanding the employment needs of older nurses, tackling age bias, providing flexible work arrangements, supporting job re-design to reduce heavy workloads and stress, and ensuring older nurses have access to professional development and career opportunities.

The SOWN report, published in April, highlighted that one in six (17%) nurses around the world are aged 55 or older and are expected to retire within the next 10 years. The WHO estimates that 4.7 million new nurses will need to be educated and employed just to replace those who retire. On top of this, there is a need to meet the challenge of a 5.9 million nurse shortage, meaning more than 10 million additional nurses will be needed to fill the gap.

The Ageing Well? Policies to support older nurses at work report, informed by National Nursing Associations including the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), set out to explore factors contributing to older nurses’ satisfaction and retention and what strategies can be adopted to help support them to continue to work and thrive.

The report notes that preventing, reducing or replacing the potential loss of skills and expertise is one of the main workforce challenges facing many countries and argues policies must be put in place to enable nurses to “age well” and remain in the workforce.

Lead author Professor James Buchan, Adjunct Professor at the WHO Collaborating Centre at the University of Technology Sydney, said support strategies must to be put in place to increase retention and enable nurses to be active members of the profession.

“We need to improve the retention of older nurses, otherwise we risk losing the most experienced members of the profession at a time when the pandemic has exposed the risk of global nursing shortages,” Professor Buchan said.

“Whereas the overwhelming shortage of nurses worldwide by 2030 will be in low and middle-income countries, developed countries need to wake up to the fact that 17% of their nursing workforces, that’s 4.7 million nurses, will be considering taking retirement over the next decade.”

The 10-point plan for supporting older nurses in their work covers:

  1. Understand the workforce profile and employment needs of older nurses by conducting surveys, focus groups and nurse labour market analysis.
  2. Avoid age bias in recruitment and employment practices
  3. Provide flexible working opportunities that meet older nurses’ requirements
  4. Ensure older nurses have equal access to relevant learning and career opportunities
  5. Ensure occupational health and safety policies enable staff wellbeing
  6. Support job re-design to reduce heavy workload and stress and support job enrichment in order to optimise the contribution of older nurses
  7. Maintain a pay and benefits system that meets older nurses’ needs and rewards experience
  8. Support older nurses in advanced and specialist practice, mentorship and preceptor roles
  9. Maintain succession planning to enable knowledge transfer and leadership development
  10. Provide retirement planning options and, where appropriate, flexible pension provision

Co-author of the report, ICN CEO Howard Catton, said the projected shortfall of over 10 million nurses would likely be exacerbated by COVID-19.

“After the past nine months, nurses are exhausted, some have post-traumatic stress disorder, and very many of those who came back to the workforce to help out are not staying,’ he said.

“I also suspect that nurses who pre-COVID has been intending to work up to their normal retirement age, many now say they have had enough.”

Mr Catton says that historically, rich countries have imported nurses from poorer countries to address their own nursing shortages. But he argues that each country should aim to be self-sufficient and produce enough nurses to meet their population’s needs, especially in a post-pandemic world.

Fellow co-author of the report, Dr Franklin A. Shaffer, President and CEO of CGFNS International, said the need to implement tailored policies that support an ageing workforce and nurses’ career-cycles was imperative.

“Understanding the challenges related to their retention and replacement will be critical for the development of policy responses that adequately address the healthcare needs of our changing world.”