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International Nurses Day: Nurses on COVID-19 frontline 'need more mental health support'

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By John Paul Ging
Nurses protesting in the United States
Nurses protesting in the United States   -   Copyright  AP
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Nurses need more support to cope with the mental health pressures of being on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been claimed.

Howard Catton, head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN), said they are sometimes the last face a dying patient will see.

Catton, speaking on International Nurses’ Day, called for a fundamental change to investment in nursing and healthcare.

“We need to fundamentally change the thinking around investment in nursing and health if we are really to nurse the world to health - and improve health globally for everyone,” Catton told Euronews.

“The mental health support that nurses and other health workers need is as important as the physical work that they are doing. Often, they are stepping in providing emotional support to patients because the families can’t be there. The nurses may be the last hand the dying patient touches, or the last face that they see.

“They are having to experience many more patients dying than is normal as well. This could be a hidden issue because it’s not just about the impact now, but months down the line, when there could be post-traumatic issues.

“Nurses need to have support in terms of being able to talk about this, to be able to say ‘I’m not OK’, to not have to work endless shifts without having breaks and to make sure that they are able to see their families - in a safe way.

ICN says 90,000 healthcare workers have been infected with COVID-19, and more than 260 nurses have died.

“In the 24 hours leading up to this international day, we’ve been commemorating nurses and other healthcare workers who have died fighting the virus," Catton said.

“And today we are celebrating the phenomenal efforts of nursing right the way around the world. The theme that we’ve set for today is ‘Nursing The World To Health’ and it couldn’t be better in terms of what we’ve seen nurses in all countries doing.

“But we‘re also saying that we need a clarion call for the future of nursing, for more investment, more resources and more support.

“We’ve gone into this pandemic 6 million nurses short worldwide. In some countries, we’ve seen verbal and physical attacks on nurses."

“With this six million shortage in the number of nurses, if we don’t look after nurses’ physical and mental health, the risk is that we will exhaust them - and that will be a major issue if there’s a second spike of this virus.”

International Nurses Day this year falls on what would have been the 200th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the pioneering British nurse considered the founder of modern nursing. 2020 is also the first World Health Organization-designated Year Of the Nurse and Midwife.

Journalist • John Paul Ging

Video editor • John Paul Ging