Blog Post

COVID-19 and the Impact on Nurses

April 28, 2020

Nurses are now being put in unsafe situations, which will likely end badly. As a nurse colleague, I understand the pressure, and thank you for your service.” – Amy Dennerlein, RN, BSN, Director of Medical Legal Solutions, Exigent

Nursing is one of the largest, most passionate communities in the world, spanning every nation, every ethnicity, and every religion. There are, according to the latest figures, 27.9m nurses across the world, and now, more than ever before, they have come together to keep our world safe.

As I tweeted recently, I am so proud to be part of this nursing cult for over 30 years. Every day I receive calls, texts, and emails from my nursing colleagues and friends regarding their situations in active frontline circumstances across the world.

The news isn’t good. I’m hearing distressing stories of nurses who haven’t worked in a direct patient care setting in years, who are being mandated to care for all types of sick patients. Nurses who have been exposed to COVID-19 are being told to come back to work, without self-isolating, exposing other patients and co-workers. That’s before we even consider the shortage of medical Personal Protection Equipment, N95 masks, ventilators, and other deficiencies occurring in medical scenarios across the globe.

It’s not necessarily that these nurses are being forced by their superiors to take on these vital tasks, although I’m sure that’s happening in some areas. It’s that for nurses, patient care will always be their highest priority. They are every patient’s personal advocate, and in times where family members and friends are being forced to keep their distance, for many, patients’ nurses are all they have.

But the impact on nursing, hospitals, and the medical sector, in general, is going to be far-reaching. Nurses are being put into unfathomable situations; for example, administering drugs without knowing of new alternative standards of care that may now be applicable. Given that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US – killing more than 251,000 people a year – it’s easy to see how post-COVID-19, there is going to be a boom in medical malpractice suits.

There will likely be two main forms of med-mal suits; those relating directly and indirectly to the COVID-19 virus. Direct suits may arise from: a hospital’s inability to prepare for the pandemic; a clinician’s failure to diagnose the virus; inaccurate treatment for a patient once diagnosed; inadequately trained clinicians performing procedures outside of their usual expertise; and patients who are inadvertently exposed to the disease.

Indirectly, hospitals could face suits relating to: patients who have experienced delays in major operations resulting in prolonged pain; cancer patients experiencing delays to their chemotherapy treatment resulting in death, or a reduction in life expectancy; a misdiagnosis of a variety of illnesses due to being told to “stay home,” “don’t go to the clinic or hospital.”

While I know we are in a crisis and hospitals are trying to deliver the best necessary care, nurses and health care providers across the world have succumbed to situations that are going to end badly for providers and patients.

As a nurse, I understand the pressure and the overwhelming desire to care for the sick regardless of the repercussions. But I also share your hope that once this is all over, nurses and medical staff will be given the investment, the recognition, and the commitment to protection and training that is needed to boost this life-saving community across the world.

Elizabeth Iro, Chief Nursing Officer at the WHO, said it best: “Thank you for your relentless dedication and commitment to the work you do.