Nurses represent more than 50% of the health workforce. In order to achieve the global goal of health for all, nurses need to be recognized, their position has to be improved, and they should take their place as leaders at the policy-making tables. These were the threads that ran through the deliberations at the recent International Council of Nurses (ICN) Congress.
The theme of the Congress held from June 27 to July 1 was “Beyond Healthcare to Health”. It was hosted by the Singapore Nurses Association and attended by more than 5,000 nurses from over 120 countries. The Congress also celebrated the 120th anniversary of the ICN, an organization that represents over 20 million nurses across the world.
Madam Halimah Yacob, President of the Republic of Singapore, was the guest of honor at the opening ceremony. She emphasized that nurses are at the heart of health systems and that more nurses, and innovative practices, will be required for the future.
“In the changing world, marked by structural demographic shifts, ongoing health care systems transformations and rapid technological advances, nurses deserve more than a pat on the back,” said Yacob. “We must support our nurses in rising up to the challenges and seizing new opportunities. I would, therefore, urge all of you to commit to nurturing your nursing workforce.”
Annette Kennedy, President of the ICN, called for greater gender equity. ‘We have to seek equity for women, and one way to do that is to improve the working conditions of nurses,” she said. ‘By improving the position of nurses in society, we will improve the position of women generally, and that will lead to better education for women and better health for their families and communities.”
Elizabeth Aro, Chief Nursing Officer of the World Health Organisation, told nurses that they were leading the way to achieve Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals. “Take your chair to the table. Be a part of decision-making within your country,” she said. “We need to get our voices heard. We need to roar!”
Aro also spoke to the Year of the Nurse and Midwife 2020. “Here you have the opportunity to think about what you want to do,” she said. “Also in terms of where you want to see nursing beyond 2020.”
Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, paid a surprise visit to the Congress. He also emphasized the potential of the nursing workforce in the transition from healthcare to health. “A force that can realize health for all. A force that can realize universal health coverage,” he said. “The role of nurses is very important, and that’s why I am saying “force, force” and more than 50% of the workforce is nurses and midwives. You have a huge contribution and impact.”
There was a considerable discussion at the Congress around the first-ever State of the World’s Nursing Report which is currently being prepared by the WHO.
In her address, Aro urged all nursing leaders to cooperate with the data collection process currently underway. It was her view that the Report would be critical in guiding international policy related to nursing.
At the closing of the event, Jim Campbell, Director of the Health Workforce Department at the WHO, also stressed the importance of this report. Reliable data and evidence on health workforce are essential to health care policy and decision making in every country. It was particularly critical for investment in nursing and midwifery that make up more than half of the health workforce.
There was much emphasis in the deliberations on nurses contributing to policy decisions internationally, nationally and locally. There is a need to prepare young nurses for this role and to this end, Nursing Now launched the 2020 Nightingale Challenge at the Congress. This initiative challenges employers worldwide to provide leadership development to nurses under 35 during 2020.
Two significant publications were launched during the Congress.
The first is the White Paper on Nursing Staffing Levels for Patient Safety and Workforce Safety, produced by the ICN and the Saudi Patient Safety Center. Bringing together evidence from a wide variety of sources the paper shows that proper nurse staffing delivers quality and safe patient care and also helps to retain nurses.
“ICN sees patient safety and nurse staffing as two sides of the same coin,” said Howard Catton, Chief Executive Officer.
The Congress also saw the launch of an updated version of the ICN International Classification for Nursing Practice (ICNP®). The changes will make the ICNP even more relevant to nursing practice in the digital age where it is important to communicate data effectively in terms that are universally used and understood.
A further highlight was the launch of an interactive exhibition of the history of the ICN in celebration of its 120th anniversary. Through the exhibits and an app, it takes the viewer on a journey from the founding of the organization on 1 July 1899, up to its vision for the future.
A great variety of topics relevant to nursing today and in the future were covered in the sessions at the ICN Congress in Singapore. The majority of these sessions was either live-streamed or uploaded and can be viewed on YouTube by nurses across the world.