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200 years ago, Florence Nightingale recognised that hand-washing and hygiene prevented the spread of infection. It is poignant, and on point, that during the WHO year of the nurse and midwife – timed to coincide with her birthdate, that nurses have been thrust into the limelight to help control the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, it is ironic that despite all our wealth, knowledge, inventions and technological changes over the centuries, Florence’s remedy remains a basic tenet of our twenty first century infection prevention campaign.
From China, where nurses and doctors worked around the clock, to Italy, where they were diverted to COVID-19 clinics, to the shores of Australia, where ophthalmic nurses brace for their influx and anticipated deployment, and so on, these all highlight our reliance on nurses. While this may not have been our vision for 2020, it is certainly providing clarity on how valuable nurses are to health care. They are on the frontline in our hospitals and health services. Everyday, we are reminded of their importance, as they care for to those in need, during these unprecedented and trying times. The WHO Report on Nursing is anticipated to be launched on International Nursing Day, in May, which will no doubt reinforce their value in our health workforce.
Florence ruled with an iron fist, enforcing her firm handwashing practices with militarised precision. Her approach has been handed down through generations of nursing professionals, and remains a central and intrinsic approach to today’s nursing services. While nurses can be viewed by some as firm or difficult, it is at these times, that we understand why nurses have been trained this way. We are all potential patients, and in the event that we might need help, we must thank our lucky stars that nurses have got our back, as our advocate, and will go to the nth degree, against all odds, to look after our best interests during our darkest hours.
As the longest continual profession in the world, with evidence of their existence dating back to 600BC, nurses have been, and will always be, the main stayers and the backbone of our health system. Regardless of the changes, task-shifting-trends, political shifts, technological advancements, pandemics, and ever-changing needs of our populations, they will be there. Their diversity and value, as professionals, is reinforced when we need them the most. We see the advantages of their wider and adaptable training, which is useful across a range of integrated healthcare fields and services.
On this World Health Day, celebrating nurses, it is an honour that I count myself amongst this prestigious group. I also celebrate those that work with nurses, be it medical personnel, administrators, cleaners, laboratory, laundry, transport and mortuary staff, PPE manufacturers and so on. Today might be about celebrating nurses, but please join me in extending the celebration to our courageous collective wider workforce teams across the globe. They are being diverted to COVID-19 management, working longer shifts, working double shifts, or without breaks, with dwindling resources, in different departments, and with a greater likelihood of contracting COVID-19. We are all in this together, and I am infinitely grateful to them all.