World facing global shortage of six million nurses – 89% in low- and middle-income countries – with COVID infecting three million healthcare workers, report says

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Demand for large numbers of overseas nurses in high-income countries could undermine the ability of low-and middle-income countries to cope with the virus and leave their health systems drastically weakened, according to a new report by the leading international body for nurses’ associations.

The International Council of Nurses’ (ICN) report ‘COVID-19 and the International Supply of Nurses’ – written by University of Technology, Sydney, Professor James Buchan, and ICN Chief Executive Officer Howard Catton – found one in eight nurses or 3.5 million are working in a country they were not born or trained in.

The pair argues high-income countries must train enough nurses to meet their own needs if low-income countries are to have a chance of coping with the pandemic – recommending countries implement a “self-sufficiency” indicator to assess the proportion of nurses born overseas.

They also recommend addressing the risk of COVID-19 burnout of nurses, plus providing fair pay and conditions, better career opportunities and ongoing education and promoting the attractiveness of nursing as a career.

That is ‘easier said than done’ however.

The report comes as the ICN, which represent 130 nurses’ associations, estimated the number of healthcare workers who have contracted COVID-19 at three million.

In Victoria, the number of infected healthcare workers now represents 950 of the state’s 10,500-plus cases – a situation that is unlikely to attract new nurses.