The International Council of Nurses said that the wave of COVID-19 infections has led wealthy countries to increase their recruitment of nurses from poorer parts of the world, worsening staffing shortages in overstretched workforces.
The Geneva-based group, which represents 27 million nurses and 130 national organisations, said that absentee rates have been at levels not seen since the two-year epidemic because of sickness, burnout and staff departures amid surging Omicron cases.
Western countries have responded by hiring army personnel as well as volunteers and retirees, as part of a trend that is worsening health inequity, he said.
Catton said in a Reuters interview that he co-authored on COVID 19 and the global nursing force, there has been an increase in international recruitment to places like the UK, Germany, Canada and the United States.
I really don't believe in this 'quick fix solution'. It's a bit like what we've seen with PPE personal protective equipment and vaccines where rich countries have used their economic might to buy and hoard - if they do that with the nursing workforce, it's going to make the inequity worse. A global shortage of 6 million nurses existed even before the epidemic, with almost 90% of those shortages in low and middle-income countries, according to ICN data.
Some of the recent recruits to rich countries came from sub-Saharan Africa, including Nigeria, and parts of the Caribbean, Catton said. Nurses were often motivated by higher salaries and better terms than at home.
The process was facilitated by giving nurses preferred immigration status, according to the ICN report.
He said that some people would look at this and say that this is rich countries that are offloading the costs of education for nurses and health workers.
Even wealthy countries won't cope with the mountains of backlog of unmet care when the epidemic winds down, Catton warned, calling for more investment and a ten-year plan to strengthen the workforce.
He said that we need a coordinated, collaborative, global effort that is underpinned by serious investment, not just warm words and platitudes and applause.