Statement by President Michael D. Higgins Marking International Nurses’ Day 2020

President Higgins has issued the following statement, to mark International Nurses’ Day, 12 May 2020:

Today, on International Nurses’ Day, all over the world we are celebrating the irreplaceable contribution that nurses make to the world’s health and wellbeing, and as we commemorate the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing whose 200th birth anniversary occurs this year, it is a great pleasure and a privilege to have the opportunity to recognise the contribution that the 67,000 nurses and midwives in Ireland have made to our society.

Today, the world’s 22 million nurses and 2 million midwives account for half of the global healthcare workforce. How apposite it is, then, that the theme of this year’s International Nurses’ Day should be, “A Voice to Lead – Nursing the World to Health”.

Today, we are invited to celebrate the part that nurses have played, and will continue to play, in all our lives. Theirs is a fundamental role, and currently it is a critical role, as countries around the world are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and its tragic consequences.

Ireland has recognised the professions of nursing and midwifery for more than 100 years. In 2018 we celebrated the centenary of the first midwives’ regulatory authority, the Central Board of Ireland, which first met in the Custom House on 1st October 1918. The following year, the General Council of Nurses Ireland was established as the regulatory authority for nurses. An Bord Altranais was established by the Nurses Act 1950 to take over the functions of those two bodies. In 2011 the Nurses and Midwives Act reformed the regulation and practice of nurses and midwives and established the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland. 

There can be no doubt that working in a profession such as nursing brings profound responsibilities, and is demanding physically, intellectually and emotionally. To embark on such a career requires certain qualities in order for it to be a fulfilling and enriching experience for both patient and professional. Yet, it is something that people choose to do because they have the strength of character, the compassion and the commitment to make such a positive contribution to society.

Having a career in which you use your knowledge and skills to relieve a person’s suffering is such a positive contribution to make, and one we have come to appreciate more fully in recent times.

For those who choose to work as nurses and midwives, it means encountering the pain, suffering, fear, anxiety and exhaustion of patients, their families and loved-ones, as well as their joy and relief – the full gamut of human emotions. For many patients and their families, coming to terms with a difficult diagnosis, navigating a complex health system and the decisions and choices necessary to ensure they or their loved one will receive the best care possible can be an emotionally exhausting and lonely experience. The work nurses do in helping them on that demanding journey is often invaluable, making a frightening and challenging time easier by your compassion and care.

As we emerge from this crisis, it is vital that we also embed the hard-earned wisdom from the COVID-19 pandemic in whatever form of society and economy emerges. It will require a cognitive transformation in how we regard the state and public expenditure in areas like health, which have often been presented myopically as a cost, a burden.

We have all gained hard-won wisdom with regard to the value of frontline workers, such as nurses, and those providing essential services across the economy. It would be so regrettable, egregious even, if, through some form of collective amnesia, we as a society were ever to disregard or forget your heroic efforts, and revert to where we were before the pandemic – a society that sometimes failed to value you fully.

On this International Nurses’ Day, as we continue to tackle the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, let us all honour the contribution of the nursing profession, and the women and men who continue to risk their lives and their security to support us, as we slowly emerge from this dark period into one of hope.

Beir beannacht.

Michael D. Higgins

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