A look at the essential role of nurses

A look at the essential role of nurses

We speak to Brando Benifei MEP and Professor Patricia Davidson about the essential role of nurses.

The nursing profession plays an essential role in the wider field of healthcare. At a time of drastically heightened public awareness of the need for a well-maintained public health system, we spoke to Member of the European Parliament Brando Benifei and Patricia Davidson, Dean of the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins University, about the essential role of nurses, the challenges facing nurses, and the deleterious effects of COVID-19.

What can the public do to better support nurses and healthcare professionals, other than by observing government and medical guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation?

Benifei: During the past months, healthcare professionals have been working under an unthinkable amount of pressure to try to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. They have my complete gratitude. As citizens, we have to do our best to show our solidarity and support to these brave workers at the frontline of this unprecedented crisis. Of course, the most important and urgent thing to do is to follow government guidelines regarding social distancing. This is the only way to reduce the pressure on healthcare facilities. Besides this, I have seen wonderful gestures of support to nurses and doctors from citizens around the world; from bakers sending pies to hospital workers, to people clapping and singing every day to honour those fighting against the virus. This crisis shows once for all the importance to boost our investments in healthcare facilities and personnel.

How important is it for EU Member States to work together during this unprecedented crisis? What is the European Parliament doing to support Member States?

Benifei: At the beginning of the pandemic we saw countries taking very different approaches to address the crisis – but viruses don’t know borders, and this initial unco-ordinated approach didn’t work very well. Thankfully, Member States understood that co-operating and co-ordinating our actions would make the fight against the pandemic more effective. At the European Parliament we have approved several measures in order to support the efforts to address the crisis by the Member States. The measures already proposed by the European Commission and approved by the Parliament include the Corona Investment Initiative, which allocates €37bn to contain the economic impact of the crisis, the suspension of certain rules regarding budget deficits and state aid to industries; and the reduction of bureaucracy for organisations which want to access to the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived, for which I have been shadow rapporteur. Finally, the Parliament also recently adopted a resolution to call for stronger solidarity between EU Member States through the establishment of a Recovery Fund to restart the European economy.

What further action could be taken at a policy level to support nursing and healthcare in your country?

Benifei: In Italy we are very proud of our healthcare system, since anyone can access a quality service regardless of their economic conditions. Nevertheless, in the last decades the system suffered from a lack of investments and we witnessed to some of the consequences in the last months. One of the most visible results is the vast shortage of nurses and doctors in multiple Italian regions. We therefore need a comprehensive plan to hire thousands of new healthcare workers in order to reduce the pressure on those working in hospitals and medical facilities. Fortunately, our government decided to act decisively on the issue by allocating billions of euros to the health system. It is our responsibility to ensure that these investments persist in the future.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected the wellbeing of nurses and midwives in particular?

Davidson: There is fear of the virus, fear of bringing the virus back to their families. Facing uncertainty, surrounded by death and suffering has led many health professionals to experience moral distress, particularly because of the feeling of being unable to meet the needs of patients and colleagues.  This distress has also been fuelled by feelings that healthcare systems have not been prepared for the pandemic and that patients and health care professionals have been put at an unnecessary risk.

We have seen evidence of stress and burden, as well as mourning for colleagues.

Are you satisfied with the levels of support given to nursing staff in your country?

Davidson: This is highly variable dependent on the location of the hospital – robust, well organised systems with robust governance such as Johns Hopkins Health System have done relatively well. There are certainly areas of the United States where robust systems have not been in place.  Many professional organisations are actively providing support.

What challenges do nurses face that the public may not be aware of?

Davidson: Balancing professional roles with responsibility for family. Being flung into a pandemic not by choice; or guilt of not being able to be at the front line.

What can the public do to support nurses and healthcare professionals, other than by observing government and medical guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation?

Davidson: The public can support nurses by showing support and recognition for their work. It would be beneficial to advocate for adequate training and resourcing of nursing education; and to promote the projection of realistic images of nurses.

This article is from issue 13 of Health Europa. Click here to get your free subscription today.

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