Finally, nursing is being properly addressed as a topic for debate in Germany – ever since the 2017 general election. Raimund Koch, however, has long been concerned about the situation of nursing staff and caregivers time. He has been part of HARTMANN for over 30 years and is currently their health public policy spokesman. He has just attended the largest industry event, the German Nursing Day conference in Berlin. What did he take away from the congress?
The fact that nursing in Germany is currently facing a critical situation is nothing new. Nor is the fact that the course for change must be set now to mitigate the nursing care crisis. I've been hearing this regularly for years at congresses and conferences. The speakers repeatedly emphasized this issue at this year's German Nursing Day in Berlin also. Yet where is nursing at in Germany today?
The numbers speak for themselves
There are currently around 70,000 vacancies for nurses throughout Germany. By 2030, this shortfall could increase to as many as 480,000 qualified staff. A difficult number for many to grasp. Let me give you a practical example of the work overload: A nurse finds a resident waiting on a toilet at 7:00 am. When asked where her nurse is, the woman replies that she was taken to the toilet by a night nurse at 2:00 am, but she did not bring her back to bed. She had probably forgotten her. Unbelievable? No, that is a reality in nursing. It is intolerable not only for patients, but also for the nursing staff in charge, who can barely cope with their daily workload.
However, it's not just about the actual workload. The psychological challenges and poor salaries also prompt staff to consider leaving the nursing profession. More than 50% of nurses in Germany are considering leaving their profession due to current conditions. This was revealed in our inaugural "Pflexit Monitor", a survey conducted on 300 nursing staff from all over Germany. Why “Pflexit”? The neologism using the German word for nursing “Pflege” and “exit” underlines the current nursing care crisis. But why are so many nurses thinking of leaving their profession? The primary reasons for this are a permanent staff shortage – as confirmed by almost three quarters of all respondents – and the generally high workload. Only 35 percent would choose the same job again – 43 percent would pursue other careers. Also shocking was the fact that barely one-third would recommend the profession to others. So what would happen if around 600,000 nurses left their jobs tomorrow? How can such an exodus be prevented, hypothetical or not? The same survey also shows that nurses enjoy their roles – their motivation and drive comes from helping people. Shouldn't that be rewarded?
Nursing redefines itself
What I learned from the German Nursing Day is that nursing is undergoing radical change. First and foremost, it is not just about fair salary, which should at least increase the appeal of nursing as a profession. A comprehensive concept is needed and is actively demanded by nurses, because they have come to view their work as much more than just assisting a doctor.
Nursing calls for recognition as an independent profession. It should be treated equally to and equitably with other professions, such as physicians. The consultation of nurses in patient treatment decisions and the independent implementation of these should not be something done behind drawn curtains. It should be an integral part of the daily work of nursing staff – working as equals. They already have the necessary scientific background knowledge as a result of the advanced academization of nursing and the practical knowledge gained in their daily work. Similarly, vouching for the self-assurance of nursing in this regard is now a matter of implementation, above all at a political level.
What has been addressed only gradually and very hesitantly in recent years in politics on the subject of nursing now has the potential to be actively implemented by the new Minister for Health, Jens Spahn. It is palpable. Spahn has appointed the former President of the German Nursing Council, Andreas Westerfellhaus, to take charge of nursing care. This would also suggest that politics is moving towards meeting the demands of the nursing profession. Because Westerfellhaus is an expert and a practitioner, and highly regarded by nurses and care-givers. Yet also Spahn noted during the German Nursing Day conference: "For all of that, I need your support." And he is probably not entirely wrong about that.
The German Nursing Day as a catalyst
Nursing in Germany receives support primarily from the German Nursing Council (DPR). It was formed 20 years ago as an independent body to represent the positions and interests of care organizations in a coherent manner – to give a voice to professional nursing. With the creation of the German Nursing Day conference in 2014, the DPR established a forum for nursing where high-ranking representatives from politics, associations, science and industry discuss the future of the nursing profession.
Since 2005, HARTMANN has supported the DPR financially and ideologically to promote the common goal of advancing nursing, with a specific focus on qualified nursing staff. Do you know who applies wound care or incontinence products in medical practice and cares for the patient on a daily basis? It is the nurses, not doctors, who prescribe these products! They know what matters, what constitutes good care and where change is needed. If we really want the nursing situation to change, it's time we gave them a seat at the table. It's time to promote binding decisions that support this change and the empowerment of nursing staff. For strong nursing care that truly benefits everyone.
2018 marks HARTMANN’s 200-year anniversary.
To commemorate this milestone, we have put together this series of articles. In it we show how our employees and partners contribute to advancing healthcare, as well as discussing trends and issues that affect the healthcare systems we serve.