Nursing Matters

The Impact of COVID on Nursing around the Globe

March 22, 2022

It is no secret that COVID-19 has shone a light and exacerbated the nursing staffing crisis in Newfoundland and Labrador and across the country. This health human resource challenge existed long before March 11, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Two years later, almost all COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the country is implementing transition plans for living with COVID-19.

Despite efforts to ease back to some sort of normalcy in Canada, COVID-19 cases continue to rise and registered nurses and other frontline health care workers continue to bear the brunt of the pandemic burden. Canada’s nurses continue to work through worsened nurse-to-patient ratios, mandated overtime, cancelled time off, high vacancy rates, and deal with other deteriorating conditions such as high chronic fatigue, poor quality of care, and lower work satisfaction.

The Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions (CFNU) recently launched a campaign, Act now: It’s time to fix the health workforce crisis, calling on federal leadership to ensure the provinces and territories have the targeted resources needed to preserve and sustain our health care system. There is an urgent need for commitment to support safe staffing levels and good health system governance at a national level, which only worsened since the pandemic.

But what about the impact of COVID on nursing around the world?

Earlier this year, a report was published by the International Centre for Nurse Migration (ICNM) in partnership with CGFNS International, Inc. and ICN titled Sustain and Retain in 2022 and Beyond- The global nursing workforce and the COVID-19 pandemic. The report revealed how the COVID-19 pandemic has made the fragile state of the global nursing workforce much worse, noting that the pandemic has increased the immediate need for nurses in all countries, suggesting up to 13 million more nurses will be required over the next decade.

The report provides a global snapshot assessment of how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the nursing workforce. It sets out an urgent action agenda for what needs to be done at both national and international levels.

Key points in the report suggest countries should prioritize vaccinations for all nurses, conduct workforce impact assessments regularly, review and expand the capacity of the domestic nurse education system, improve retention of nurses and attractiveness of the profession, and monitor countries’ ability to be self-sufficient to meet their nursing workforce requirements.

The report also urges international stakeholders and countries to collaborate in the development of a long-term, ten-year plan for a sustainable nursing workforce. Risking more damage to an already impaired workforce is not justifiable, and reverting to the pre-pandemic situation of “living with” extensive nursing shortages cannot happen.

Pre-pandemic, the world was already short almost six million nurses. The spread of COVID-19 across the globe has had an unprecedented effect on nursing – driving up demand for nurses, exacerbating the shortage factors that had already created a global nurse-supply gap, while at the same time adding huge new pressures on the individual nurse at all health system levels.

Nurses across the province, across the country, and across the world have had enough. We need to act and plan now.