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Nurses remain at the heart of the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and key to the restoration of health systems that have been neglected during the crisis, according to the International Council of Nurses (ICN).

ICN says an interim report released this month from the panel assessing the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic praised nurses but raised concerns about the long-term cost of their efforts to the profession.

The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness reported its findings to the World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Board on 19 January.

Critically, the report found the world was not ready for the pandemic and must do better in the future.

The report includes information sourced from ICN’s December 2020 webinar, which featured nurses from around the world sharing their experiences of the pandemic with one of the panel’s Co-chairs, the Rt Hon Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand.

It also acknowledges the dire worldwide shortage of nurses and highlights workforce issues such as burnout and how many nurses are considering retiring from the profession earlier than planned due to the effects of the pandemic.

Speaking to the WHO Executive Board, Ms Clark said: “The world needs to do two things: Act more decisively now to stem the pandemic, and fundamentally reset preparedness and response systems to help ensure that this can’t happen again.”

ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton said the Independent Panel had understood just how vital nurses have been during the pandemic, the strain they are under and their crucial roles in the future.

“The global shortage of nurses is emblematic of the world’s lack of preparedness for a pandemic,” Mr Catton said.

“The world will need an additional 10 million nurses by 2030, otherwise a deep chasm will appear between the healthcare available in affluent countries and low and middle-income countries.”

Mr Catton said ICN has called for the prioritisation of healthcare workers globally for vaccines, but its National Associations have reported slow progress.

Amid the pandemic response, he said nurses must be the catalyst for the reset of health systems and a litmus test for its success.

“Nurses are at the heart of the pandemic response: they are central to the future management of COVID-19 and to the restoration of health services that have been neglected during the pandemic,” he said.

“Governments must do whatever it takes to invest in the recruitment and retention of nurses to give us a chance of delivering the global ambition of accessible and affordable health services for all.

“Resetting our health systems will require governments to invest in nursing jobs, education and leadership, as outlined in last year’s WHO/ICN State of the World’s Nursing (SOWN) report.”