Climate Change In Healthcare

May 18, 2021 | Aussie Nurse

Anyone working in the different healthcare facilities and caring for individuals with Covid-19 in the last year would have noticed how much PPE was being used, the demand came from infection control measures which without a doubt needed to be strong.


On a few occasions as I was donning & doffing PPE, I did wonder about the environmental impact of using so many of these resources that were single use items.

The ANMF in Victoria advertised the ‘Health and Environmental Sustainability Conference’, it was a virtual online event and as I was interested in learning more about practices in healthcare, I attended the conference. There was a range of different presenters which included health professionals as well, presentations were from findings of research and some of the presenters displayed their hard work on new innovations currently happening within healthcare.


Keynote Presenter – Kate McBride

Kate was brought up on Tolarno Station- NSW in the Australian Outback and she is a fifth generation farmer. With her interests of agriculture Kate advocates in the role of Healthy River Ambassador and she is completing further study as well.

Kate’s work has been on the news and may be recognised as the 2019 Menidee fish kills where lakes were drained of water and all the fish died, unfortunately it a situation that was preventable.



Kates advocates by increasing awareness about the mis-management of water for example by over allocating water to specific areas i.e. mass irrigation being directed to water thirsty crops of cotton.

Her work focuses on the water management of the Darling River and Menindee lakes, Kate expressed how fragile the ecosystem is as it supplies food, water, employment and cultural opportunities, not forgetting these water structures are important for the whole of Australia.

This ecological disaster has consequences of negatives effects on- the indigenous population, livelihoods of farmers, the fishing and tourism industry, increases in rural mental health, increases in self harm and suicide rates and reduced life expectancy.

Kate’s presentation highlighted the consequences of climate change isn’t a problem for the future, its here now!!

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Presenter – Angie Bone

Angie is the Deputy Chief Health Officer (Environment) at the Victorian State Government. 

Angie’s presentation set the scene of climate change as she used research and data to demonstrate insights of the impacts of climate change becoming more visible. 

Angie took more of a global perspective and linked how health and socioeconomic trends are combined with ‘earth trends’ and how as a species, humans are over-reaching the resources that we have available. Angie did cover the many future health consequences and the needs that will be placed on health and social services in the future. 

On an international level there are defined targets to reduce carbon emissions and reduce the average temperatures as the recent consequences of climate change are becoming more visible with droughts, flooding and extreme bush fires as experienced here in Australia. Out of all the countries, Germany is leading the way with meeting C02 targets and Australia being a resource rich country has a large footprint in regards to fossil fuels such as coal.

“The truth is: the natural world is changing. And we are totally dependent on that world. It provides our food, water and air. It is the most precious thing we have and we need to defend it” 

– David Attenborough

Presenter – Grace Wong

Grace is Project Lead of the Victorian Therapeutics Advisory Group Quality Use of Medicines (VicTag).

Grace is working on how to tackle the way we dispose of pharmaceutical waste in healthcare facilities in a more safer way, as up to 70 different medications can be found in waterways and the effect is that wildlife consume the medical waste. It has been found that Platypus consume anti-depressants, with male trouts and Vulcans also consuming different medications, the disappointing issue is that the long term effects of these products being consumed by animals at constant low levels is not yet fully known.

After a human has taken these different medications we excrete human waste down the toilet and even having a shower we wash off sweat with these waste products and they are entering the waterways. 

Also, the healthcare industry contributes to the effects on the eco-system through pharmaceuticals being disposed of in-correctly. It frightens me how many times I have I blindly poured medications down a sink as it used to be common practice, but it is not so now as disposing of medications must meet legislations, regulations and accreditation standards.

Appropriate medication waste bins are slowly being introduced into healthcare settings and pharmaceutical waste items that are unwanted, expired or as S8 products must be disposed of safely and then incinerated to prevent any active medications leaching into the environment.



Presenter – Medical Pantry 

Medical Pantry has many health professionals within its group who are volunteers to redistribute medical supplies from different healthcare facilities here in Victoria and deliver them to underserved communities around the world. 

Medical Pantry saw what food waste organisations around Australia were doing as they rescued surplus foods from suppliers and delivered them to the vulnerable, in turn reducing the amount of waste being sent to land fills.

Medical Pantry provides medical supplies sourced from local healthcare facilities and they are then sent internationally to humanitarian aid organisations, animal welfare organisations and even used for educational purposes of the next generation of health professionals in many countries.



Presenter – Samantha Bates 

Samantha is a Research Nurse and an ICU nurse, Samantha’s presentation focused on her work during the Covid-19 pandemic as she is part of the team that developed the Covid Hood which is reusable.

The healthcare facility that Samantha works for had the highest number of patients infected with Covid-19 come through their ICU in Victoria. Of course, in any hospital there are only a set number of negative pressure rooms and the amount of patients requiring these rooms was far too many and that added a challenge to isolate the virus safely.

To overcome this a team of specialists and Samantha came together with collective effort to design and produce a personal ventilation hood to help contain the droplet spread of Coronavirus, it is not a substitute for PPE yet added more precautionary controls.

Samantha talked about starting from the original idea being formed and then to delivering care with the obstacles of designing, manufacturing, barriers of cost and then adopting the safe cleaning practices of the Covid Hood that were faced.

Its amazing how during these overwhelming times that that such a problem of trying to isolate the virus birthed the Covid Hood here in Melbourne. Not forgetting the benefits as it took patients as the end users to help with the development of the hood, they were part of the collective too.

The future uses for the Covid Hood is the need for overseas distribution that is cost-effective and a product that is reusable, its not just a product for isolating just Covid-19 it’s also for Tuberculosis, Influenza and Measles too.

Twitter – @iamSam_au

On reflection –

At the end of the conference there were two hospital based- waste officers who talked about sustainable waste practices in hospitals. They talked about their involvement with preventing products going to landfills, it was fascinating to hear about the obstacles they meet as it takes effort and negotiation to get these materials recycled at times.

It seems all the presentations I have mentioned above have required a tremendous amount of energy, time and heaps of personal dedication, there is excellent work being done to make changes and to move away from old practices that are harmful to our environment.

The overall impact with climate change on an individuals health and social needs is immense and nurses will be directly seeing the health consequences play out in the coming future. 

Within healthcare it seems we are only beginning to improve our practices and hopefully with momentum it will grow, as we have a massive part to play. I think we can start by learning more and increasing awareness of this cause in our everyday practices. 

Even though at times it was overwhelming to be given a picture of the possible future effects of climate change, Angie Bone talked about the Ozone layer and with changing practices we have actually made changes for the better and done some repair to the Ozone layer- there is some hope. 

I know every time I’m at work I will start with simple things such as paying attention to the recycling bins, as on an everyday basis there is often contamination of different products in the bins mainly because of not segregating and disposing properly of materials in the right bins.

After this event I am keen to find out more about my organisations practices and I hope to return to this conference in a couple of years to see what improvements have been made in the healthcare sector.


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(Photo by Nicholas Doherty on Unsplash)



“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living”

– David Attenborough

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