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 and professional bodies are responding. 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 healthcares’ deleterious contribution to climate and environmental degradation along with opportunities to improve.
Education and action on climate change, it’s health impact and mitigation is needed within the immediate workplace and broader community. As professionals providing frontline care to those affected by climate change, and as trusted professionals, nurses and midwives are perfectly positioned to influence peer and public, yet studies report a workforce that feels ill equipped. 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 debates 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 showcase their replicable projects at an annual Sustainability Conference demonstrating savings to the triple bottom line. A busy Facebook page provides local and national networking opportunities replete with ideas and information. ANMF (Vic Branch) is a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and in response to an identified vocational gap, wrote and teach Nursing for the Environment – Intensive. Participants learn how sustainability and climate change action fits their role, professional codes and standards and develop departmental action plans.
Successful political advocacy and government lobbying by ANMF (Vic Branch) resulted in a new Victoria Waste Education Officer and 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.
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. So much more is needed – and quickly. Our work demonstrates that nurses and midwives are willing. It is the responsibility of those in leadership to facilitate and equip.