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Health Care in Danger: To tackle the issue, we have to stand together

13-02-2014 Article

A few months ago, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) and the ICRC signed a memorandum of understanding to strengthen efforts to make the delivery of health care safer. We asked David Benton, chief executive of ICN, what he thought about the initiative.

How relevant is the issue of violence against health-care services for the International Council of Nurses?

David Benton, chief executive of ICN 

David Benton, chief executive of ICN

It’s very relevant. As nurses, we have a duty to deliver care – to do so, we need a safe environment that enables us to work impartially, without discriminating on the basis of political affiliation, gender or anything else. When nurses are not able to deliver health care, the consequences are felt across the entire community.

Are you aware of areas in which nurses are especially affected by violence while delivering health care?

Sadly, the number of countries in which nurses are subjected to physical and verbal violence while delivering health care is actually increasing. We’re seeing this happen not only in countries struggling with armed conflict, but also in peaceful developed countries, where society is changing, demands are increasing and resources are often tight.

What can be done to halt this trend?

Afghanistan, Kandahar, Mirwais Hospital. The Teaching Nurse checks on a child in the paediatric ward. 

Afghanistan, Kandahar, Mirwais Hospital. The Teaching Nurse checks on a child in the paediatric ward.
© ICRC / Marko Kokic / v-p-af-e-01196.

A number of steps can be taken, such as equipping nurses and health-care workers with the right skills to de-escalate situations. Another approach is to work with governments to put strict rules in place for dealing with violence in health-care facilities and to make sure that perpetrators of violence against nurses face criminal prosecution.

In countries where an armed conflict is biased towards one political party or another, the international community needs to come together to ensure that practices such as denying access to health care on the basis of political affiliation or disregarding medical ethics are not accepted.

Why did your organization decide to get involved in the Health Care in Danger project?

A number of ICN member associations have recently been affected by unrest in many countries, particularly in the Middle East. Nurses and doctors have been arrested and jailed in Bahrain and Syria, among other places. To tackle this issue, we have to stand together – it’s the only way we’re going to have a significant impact.

What will be your next steps now you have signed the memorandum of understanding?

We will be emphasizing the importance of this issue to our members and encouraging them to convey the message to their governments, in the hope that States will work together to tackle it internationally. We will also make sure there are sufficient resources available to incorporate the issue into education programmes for our members. With the World Health Assembly and audit reports coming up, it’s also important for us to establish whether the situation of violence against nurses is worsening or improving. If it’s worsening, we will need to identify and share best practices with others.


International Council of Nurses (ICN)

As a federation of 135 national nursing associations, ICN represents the more than 16 million nurses worldwide and is considered a leader in this field. Since 1899, ICN has worked to ensure quality nursing care for all, sound health policies globally, the advancement of nursing knowledge, and the presence worldwide of a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce.