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Investing in nursing to improve global health is a no-brainer

Investing in nursing to improve global health is a no-brainer
4 min read

The government should support our campaign to give more priority to the development of nursing and midwifery, writes former NHS Chief Executive Lord Crisp

There is a paradox about nursing. Nurses are highly valued by society and they are now the most trusted profession, beating even doctors. Yet they are regularly underestimated and unable to use their education, skills and experience to the full. It is both a paradox and a waste of all that talent and commitment.

We have become used in recent years in the UK to nurses taking on new roles – prescribing; undertaking endoscopies and other procedures; providing, for example, specialist cardiac, respiratory, breast or wound care in hospitals, and undertaking medicine reviews and so much more in primary care. This trend is continuing and with more of us suffering from long-term chronic diseases and requiring the sort of holistic continuing support offered by nurses, it is not too fanciful to think that primary care may change from being GP-based with nursing input to become nurse-based with GP input.

However, this quiet revolution is not yet underway in most countries in the world. In many places nurses are still essentially “hand maidens” and I have seen well-trained nurses waiting around to be told what to do, unable to use any initiative.

The APPG on Global Health published a report on its review of nursing globally, Triple Impact, which concluded that global goals on health from Universal Health Coverage to tackling antibiotic resistance would not be achieved without strengthening nursing and the closely-related profession of midwifery.

We interviewed many nurses and learned that nurses were too often systematically underutilised and unable to use their skills to the full. Nurses and midwives make up almost half the professional health workforce globally, so this is not just a frustration for nurses but an extraordinary waste of the largest single resource in health.

Moreover, we concluded that developing nursing would help achieve three Sustainable Development Goals – improved health, greater gender equity, and strengthened local economies.

Put simply, it became apparent that developing and investing in nursing was one of the most significant things that could be done to improve health globally. It seemed a no-brainer.

Nurses globally were understandably enthusiastic, but we could not get any of the great movers and shakers in the international development world to take up the cause. As a result, Baroness Mary Watkins (herself a nurse), I and a few colleagues from around the world decided to create a campaign - Nursing Now – to improve health globally by raising the profile and status of nursing, demonstrating what nurses can achieve and maximising their impact globally.

Nursing Now launches on February 27 with the Duchess of Cambridge leading the launch in London, Dr Tedros the Director General of the WHO speaking from Geneva, and parallel events in Africa, the USA, the Middle East and elsewhere. There is already massive support for the campaign and its goals with leading doctors and others worldwide pledging their support. Governments of countries as different as Uganda and Singapore are leading the way in developing nursing and will be showcased by the campaign alongside pioneering hospital groups and community projects from Brazil, India, Jamaica and Rwanda.

I have been lucky enough to secure a short debate on nursing in the Lords on the evening of February 28 where already many peers have decided to speak. Among other things we will be asking to Government to support the campaign and give even more priority to the development of nursing and midwifery not only in the UK but throughout the UK’s development work. It really is a no-brainer.

See and pledge your support.


Lord Crisp is a crossbench peer, former civil servant and chair of the APPG on Global Health. The short debate on nursing is on Wednesday 28 February

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