Operating theaters closed due to lack of staff, ambulances stopped due to no nurses or even entire wards with too few operators. The pandemic crisis of recent years has ended up making clear what was visible only to those working in the sector: a slow decrease in nursing staff that has become a precipitous shortage.
Alessandro Migliorelli, a nurse for 28 years, bears witness to this: “compared to 20 years ago there has been a decline, a depletion of the national health service over the years – he says – we have seen many colleagues leave and not be replaced”. “All of this – he adds – ends up affecting health, job security and moreover one is forced to take time away from the family. Although this is certainly a profession that is not chosen simply for a salary at the end of the month. But it is something that goes beyond, it is helping, it is assisting the patient in his journey”. Sacrifice and self-denial that are no longer able to make up for a shortage of personnel that has become chronic by now. “An atavistic problem – this is how Stefano Barone, a hospital nurse, defines it – which has been affecting us for several years and which has forced us to transform what was previously quality assistance, even envied in the rest of European countries, into amount. Today we find ourselves inside the departments trying to run after time”.
Relations with other EU countries
In Italy, as highlighted by the Court of Auditors in the analysis of Nadef 2023, there is currently a shortage of between 60,000 and 70,000 nurses. “We should have one nurse for every six patients – explains Barone – but to date in public hospitals the ratio is only one nurse for 10 or even 12 patients. In some private facilities, there are 20 patients for a single health worker”. “The average in Europe – adds Migliorelli – is 2.59 nurses per doctor. In Italy we are at 1.49. In practice almost half”.
Low wages and flight abroad
A profession so unattractive that over the years it has prompted thousands of nurses, about 7,000, trained in Italian universities, to emigrate. Top destinations: Germany, Spain, Belgium and Switzerland. While, thanks to Brexit, the flow to Great Britain has slowed down. The first reason for the exodus is certainly economic: “a nurse who works on shifts – explains Migliorelli – can reach 1,500 euros a month; with allowances and overtime even a little more. However, based on the European average, in Italy we are 23% less than in other countries”. Countries where the average salary of a nurse is around 2,500 euros a month. In Switzerland it reaches 3,300 euros net per month, even if it must be considered a decidedly high cost of living.
The enhancement of the profession
But the economic aspect is not the only reason why the profession is so unattractive “the big problem, today in Italy, is that of the lack of a career perspective” explains Stefano Barone. “I have colleagues who over the years have continued studying, taking masters, specialist, doctorates, yet nothing has changed. In Italy nurses enter and nurses leave. Therefore, operators in the sector point out, there is a lack of recognition of specialist skills, the valorisation of a professionalism capable of also making choices of responsibility and care.