Title : Determined action to tackle health determinants: a collaborative response to the challenge of climate change mitigation in practice settings
The physical environment has long been understood as a major determinant of health and well-being. Climate change and environmental degradation are increasingly recognized for their disastrous health impacts. The Lancet Climate Change Commission called for a public health movement framing the threat of climate change as a health issue. The International Council of Nurses (ICN) has called on nurses’ associations to be involved in developing national action plans and policies. Health Care without Harm draws attention to the tension of our contribution to climate and environmental degradation while presenting opportunities to improve.
Nurses and midwives provide frontline care to those affected by climate change. As trusted professionals we are perfectly positioned to educate public and peers yet studies report feelings of being ill equipped to do so. There is a knowledge gap concerning the health-related impacts of climate change and how it relates to daily workload. Sustainability in nursing is described as poorly conceptualized and existing in isolated pockets. Mitigation activity can be perceived as extraneous to core function, an attention and resource competitor and potentially burdensome on top of immediate clinical workloads.
The Victorian branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF), was approached by members to increase involvement in policy surrounding climate change and provide greater support to members in responding to environmental issues.
A dedicated environment portfolio was established, an environmental health officer employed, and a suite of initiatives developed. Nurses and midwives role-model projects at an annual Sustainability Conference demonstrating savings to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit. A busy Facebook page provides local and national networking opportunities replete with ideas and information. ANMF (Vic Branch) is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO). In response to an identified vocational gap, we wrote and teach Nursing for the Environment – Intensive. Participants learn how sustainability and climate change action fits roles, professional codes and standards and develop departmental action plans.
Successful political advocacy by ANMF (Vic Branch) has resulted in the development of eight government endorsed interventions being rolled across Victorian public hospitals through 2018-20. This project has been included in the Victorian Waste Education Strategy and is resulting in projects and online resources to assist clinicians to further reduce environmental impact and cost. This includes regulatory clarification and practical tools such as downloadable area-specific and editable posters.
At the 2019 ICN Conference in Singapore the Director General of the WHO, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus stated, we cannot achieve universal health coverage and the health-related targets in the Sustainable Development Goals unless we empower and equip nurses, midwives and harness their power.
This is a task that ANMF (Vic Branch) has embraced and the result is an outworking of the Lancet Commission’s call for a synthesis of top-down and bottom-up approaches to support health care response to the public health threat of climate change.
ANMF (Vic Branch) is untangling the confusion around sustainability in healthcare and making tangible contribution to harnessing and supporting the collective power of nurses and midwives in climate changing times.