While everyone has played their own role in helping combat the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers have taken the vast majority of the plaudits for their selfless work over the previous 18 months, and rightly so. As healthcare systems became inundated with COVID-19 patients, nurses and other health workers have been on and supporting the frontline to care for our health needs. Alleviating the pressure on health and care workers will be key to ensuring the viability of the global healthcare sector.
COVID-19 has influenced the way people access and view their own health, which has led to an increased willingness for individuals to autonomously seek information and knowledge to allow them to proactively manage their own wellbeing. The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of accurate information. To support an uptake in this behaviour and address health misinformation, nurses will continue to be key sources of trusted self-care and nursing care services information.
In fact, in a Gallop poll nurses are cited as the most trusted profession.
With high public confidence in health workers, nurses can address concerns of different communities and provide reliable guidance. Nurses, which account for 60% of the health profession, are the closest to the community, and are well positioned to partner with individuals, families and populations for disease prevention and management tailored to address health literacy.
The International Council of Nurses (ICN) identifies that people must be at the centre of healthcare delivery and able to lead decisions about how their own health is managed and delivered. Nurses are key to making people-centred healthcare a reality. To achieve this, ICN advocates for prioritising government investments in nursing education and longer-term nursing workforce planning to build a well-educated and robust nursing workforce that supports health systems.
Firstly, this makes practical sense from a human resource perspective. Due to existing nursing shortages, the ageing nursing workforce and the growing COVID-19 effect,
ICN estimates that up to 13 million nurses will be needed to fill the global nurse shortage gap in the future. This means that equipping people with the means to self-manage their health will be key to the overall functioning of future health systems. It also ensures nurses are accessible beyond self-care demands, delivering primary healthcare and supporting both communicable and noncommunicable disease care.
Secondly, rising health costs have exacerbated inequality when it comes to access to health services for people from low-income households. To reverse this trend, nurses and community health workers have a significant role to play in increasing accessibility to quality healthcare to reach populations in a cost-effective way.
Separately, consulting nurses and health workers on a regular and episodic basis offers individuals a greater degree of flexibility in how they manage their well-being which can be beneficial to long-term health outcomes. ICN case studies show that nurses are often the first, and sometimes only, healthcare professional in communities and highlights their critical roles in increasing access to healthcare along the continuum from supporting self-care to delivering required healthcare.
We know just how effective self-care can be and the complimentary role that it can play in supporting the wider health system to continue to deliver for people. Nurses help to improve health literacy, support determinants of health across communities, deliver primary care and manage chronic conditions. People-centered care is central to the nursing philosophy and the genesis of the nursing practice.
Transforming public health is an endeavour which requires steady leadership with nurses at the helm to support your health journey!