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  • Ber Oomen

Vaccination and #COVID19: 'Let's learn from mistakes and missed opportunities'

There are many lessons to be learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic. Providing nurses with more and better training about microbiology and hygiene is a key lesson. Another is that nurses should be given proper working conditions, including the right personal protective equipment, so that their lives are not recklessly put at risk. It is also crucial to ensure that specialist nurses are recognised across the EU, that they can move to and work in other EU countries more easily and that only specialist nurses work in intensive care units.

Nurses are professional healthcare workers in dealing Covid-19. As such, they should be among the first healthcare workers to be engaged in subjects relating to education and inclusion surrounding the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available. In that way, they can participate and take leadership by raising awareness about vaccination, vaccination programs and tackle the virus.

Knowledge, training and efficiency are key elements in health provision. That kind of thinking goes right back to Florence Nightingale. In those and other areas, health regulators and medically trained healthcare professionals have not been as prepared for the Covid-19 outbreak as they should have been.

To take steps forward, we need to admit that there have been shortcomings. For example, we need to accept that we have not done enough to have well trained intensive care nurses and that we are well behind in terms of our recruitment efforts. We therefore welcome the call by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, to support recognition of specialist nursing levels within the European Union via the European Directive of Professional Qualifications. In that context, it is crucial that, over time, we overcome the resistance to recognising specialist nurses within the EU.

In addition, we have not learnt all the lessons from earlier outbreaks of infections. Why is it that we don't all have sufficient knowledge about issues such as microbes, medication, surveillance systems, and the prevention of infection? These subjects are not taught in nursing schools or, if they are, they are not taught in sufficient depth. Nor are they included sufficiently in ongoing professional development or in online teaching. Recently graduated nurses who are starting work in health clinics have admitted that microbiology and hygiene were not big issues in their training. A nurse completing an online module about these issues is not sufficient any more.

At the height of the outbreak, all kinds of nurses were deployed in intensive care units and many mistakes have been made. Why would the general public expect any nurse to work in an intensive care unit?

With the shortage of teachers, do we expect teachers of ancient Greek or chemistry to spend extra hours teaching maths? Why then are we expecting non-specialist nurses to work in intensive care when lives are at stake?

Nurses working in intensive care units are specialist nurses with specialist training. In that context, it is a major problem that specialist nurses are still not recognised across the EU.

During the outbreak of Covid-19, it was a scandal that nurses and health professionals had to work with insufficient knowledge about hygiene and were not equipped with the right personal protective equipment (PPE). That put them at risk. Indeed, there were many cases of health professionals being put at risk and all kinds of rights relating to working conditions being violated.

It is high time that we started investing in a resilient and agile form of healthcare provision, be that for treatment, for ongoing care, secondary prevention or at the primary level and in ensuring that people are more informed about health issues. It will be a blessing when vaccines are available but it will not be the silver bullet, also when nurses are knowledgeable about and competent in dealing with microbes so that they can act wisely based on the best available knowledge. We hope that the ESNO activities related to microbes, vaccination and vaccines such as the Nurses Guide on Education and Information on Vaccination, as part of the #Caring4Nurses campaign, will contribute to that effort.

Ber Oomen

Director, Foundation of Nurse Specialist European


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