World Health Organization chief nursing officer Elizabeth Iro said this year was also a chance to push for political action to head off a global shortage of nurses predicted to reach nine million by 2030.
The WHO’s chief nurse laid out these ambitions to Nursing Times to mark the start of the first ever International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife.
Its overarching aim is for countries to recognise that “investing more in the nursing and midwifery workforce” is the only way they can achieve universal health coverage – in which everyone has access to quality and affordable healthcare services that they need.
Ms Iro indicated that a “transformation” was happening at the WHO itself that had given rise to an unprecedented and long-overdue recognition for the contribution and value of nurses and midwives, and had allowed the professions an important worldwide platform for the next 12 months.
She was appointed as the WHO’s chief nursing officer in 2017, following a seven-year absence of the post in the organisation, which is an agency of the United Nations.
In appointing her, WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – a vocal supporter of nursing – fulfilled a personal commitment to hire a nurse to his senior leadership team.
The recreation of the role has already born fruit, with the WHO dedicating 2020 to nurses and midwives to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale.
In her first interview with Nursing Times, Ms Iro said the coming year would be used by the WHO to both celebrate nurses and midwives and to also look at the key challenges facing them and how they could be addressed.
She noted that one of the most pressing issues everywhere, and which is due to take centre stage during 2020, is the workforce crisis. The focus on nursing this year offered “leverage” for investment, she said.
As well as there being too few nurses around the world, she highlighted that the practice of many was currently restricted and they were unable to use all the skills they were trained in, and this was something she wanted to see change off the back of the opportunity provided by this year.
“We are really quite mindful that nurses and midwives are not really utilised in the full scope of their license in some countries,” she noted. “This is definitely another time to highlight that and to provide the full scope of practice that could be better utilised by countries in terms of the nursing and midwifery roles and the diversity of the roles that they actually have.”
There was much to gain for all through empowering nurses to work to the boundaries of their registration, highlighted Ms Iro, citing examples such as cost efficiency for providers, increased patient satisfaction and nurses being generally happier with the work they were doing, as a result.
“If they are enabled to practise according to the scope and they are provided the resources to do so…this has benefit for the patients, for the community as well as for the country,” said Ms Iro, who is a trained nurse and midwife.
She told Nursing Times she also hoped the initiative could be used to tackle wider issues around gender inequality, discrimination and stereotyping in nursing.