Nursing facing a ‘mental health tsunami’ 

27 July 2020

A leading nursing expert has warned of an impending “mental health tsunami” among nurses if governments do not take the profession more seriously.

With a current six million shortfall in nurses worldwide, she warns of a future in which nursing numbers will be even more eroded unless improvements within the profession are rapidly enacted.    

Speaking with former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Anne Marie Rafferty, President of the UK’s Royal College of Nursing and Professor of Nursing Policy at King’s College London, says that governments can no longer take nurses for granted going into the future.

Ms Rafferty issues her “wake-up call” in the former PM’s podcast series, A Podcast of One’s Own with Julia Gillard, which showcases prominent female leaders from a variety of vocations.

Ms Rafferty says she “sincerely” hopes there will be a significant improvement in nurses’ pay and working conditions post-COVID, now that the pandemic has heightened awareness of the vital role nurses play in the community.

She says a survey that showed only 41 per cent of nurses would recommend nursing as a career was “a warning sign’’.

“For too long, to be quite frank, we have taken our nurses, and a future in which there will be nurses, simply for granted. We cannot rely on that in the future,’’ she tells Ms Gillard.

Ms Rafferty said the statistics were a “wake-up call” for governments. “It’s now a graduate profession but it’s not paid as a graduate profession,’’ she said, citing a survey which showed that in a number of European countries nurses’ salaries were below the national average wage.

“That’s unacceptable given the complexity (of the job) and the conditions under which people have been working, extraordinarily stressful and distressing,’’ she says.

“We know that from past pandemics and epidemics a significant proportion of nurses go on to develop PTSDs.

“In our survey … we are seeing about 25 per cent of our sample actually saying that they have quite severe depression, quite severe levels of distress.

“It’s actually the mental health tsunami that we are going to see moving forward and we are already seeing signs of now, which means that nurses are simply not going to be there in the numbers in which they have in the past.

“That’s why we need improvements across the board.’’

Ms Rafferty said “wellbeing” needed to be a priority and called for “mass investment” in education, decent working conditions, a good career structure with better promotion prospects, “allowing people to progress rapidly in their careers’’, improved leadership “at every level”, greater staffing levels and “pay, of course that needs to be hiked up!”.

Check out the interview at: