17 May 2007 Edition

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International : Nurses' conditions cause for concern worldwide

Nurses’ difficulties highlighted in UN report


As the nurses keep fighting for better working conditions in Ireland, a new publication by the United Nations labour agency, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), highlights the risks and difficulties faced by nurses everywhere. If Mary Harney or the board of the Health Services Executive (HSE) bothers to read it, they might accept that Irish nurses are justified in their demands. The publication of the document, entitled Advance Positive Practice Environments on 12 May, marked International Nurses’ Day.
In 2006, the World Health Organisation identified that the global health workforce was facing a crisis, and that the critical shortage of nurses was a priority issue. The WHO found that the reasons for this crisis were complex, but key among them were unhealthy work environments that weaken performance or alienate nurses and, too often, drive them away from specific work settings or from the nursing profession itself.
This is why ILO’s Convention 149 calls on states to improve existing laws and regulations on occupational safety and health by adapting them to nurses’ particular needs. When this happens, nurses work better and because conditions are good, more people are attracted into the profession. When this does not happen, well, you get a nurses’ strike.

All over the world, nurses, who provide the majority of health services (up to 80 percent in some cases), are being forced to move due to working conditions. Clearly, developing countries suffer the most. In Ghana, more than 500 nurses left the country in 2000 for higher-paying jobs in richer countries and this is three times the total recorded for 1999 and more than double the number of nursing graduates Ghana produced that year.
Nurses from developed countries also migrate to where working conditions are more favourable, as is reflected in the large presence of Irish nurses in the US and Britain.
A study of nurses in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland and Germany showed that 41% of hospital nurses were dissatisfied with their jobs and 22% planned to leave them in less than one year. Findings confirmed the relationship between workplace stress and nurses’ morale, job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and intention to quit.
Positive Practice Environments points out how “unhealthy environments affect nurses’ physical and psychological health through the stress of heavy workloads, long hours, low professional status, difficult relations in the workplace, problems carrying out professional roles, and a variety of workplace hazards.”
Furthermore, evidence indicates, “long periods of job strain affect personal relationships and increase sick time, conflict, job dissatisfaction, turnover, and inefficiency”. (Baumann et al. 2001).
Nurses’ heavy workloads are the cause of friction with colleagues. Inappropriate tasks, insufficient skills and knowledge, poor management and unsafe working conditions present major obstacles in providing the highest standards of care. This is the case that Irish nurses have been making all along and to which Harney or the HSE have not paid heed.
Overworked nurses and doctors – junior doctors are working up to 60 hours per week – are not good for patients, whatever the authorities claim. And to those who oppose the government negotiating with nurses, the question to ask is: Do you want to put your health, or that of your family, in the hands of someone who has not had sufficient sleep? This is not just about nurses. As the document points out, it’s about health service quality. It’s about something that affects all of us.


 News in Brief


Two days of violence have left 41 people dead and a stirke has closed shops and cleared transport from the roads in the Pakistani city of Karachi. The strike is in support of top judge Iftikhar Chaudhry – suspended due to his critical stance against Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf’s administration.
Chaudhry has become the symbol of the fight against Musharraf’s military rule. Authorities have now banned gatherings of more than five people in the city.   The reaction of the US, a close ally of Musharraf since the war on Afghanistan, remains to be seen.


The official Xinhua news agency has reported that China has successfully launched a communications satellite for Nigeria. This is the first time that a foreign buyer has purchased both a Chinese satellite and its launching service. China beat 21 other bidders for the $311m contract to launch the satellite in 2004. The Nigerian Communication Satellite NIGCOMSAT-1 is expected to offer broadcasting, telecommunications and broadband internet services for Africa.


Iran and the United States say they are to hold joint talks in Baghdad in the coming weeks on the situation in Iraq. The announcement comes after the two countries attended a conference on Iraq’s security in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Iran said it agreed to the meeting to help to relieve the pain of Iraqis, support their government and reinforce security, while the White House said the talks, involving US ambassador Ryan Crocker, were aimed at ensuring Iran’s “productive” role in Iraq.


Poland and the US will shortly begin formal negotiations on Washington’s proposal to locate part of its missile defence shield on Polish soil. The US wants Poland to host 10 interceptor rockets capable of destroying long-range ballistic missiles fired from the Middle East. The US also wants to site a radar system in the Czech Republic. Russia has warned that the US plan would seriously destabilise global security.

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