Nurses Asked To Tackle Unfair Health Inequities & Discrimination

Aug 30, 2023 | Aussie Nurse

The ICN International Council Of Nurses have produced a new position statement called the ‘Health inequities and discrimination – new ICN’s position statement addresses role of nurses


As an organisation the ICN representing nurses with a voice globally and in this statement they have found that during the COVID-19 pandemic that inequities have increased in societies worldwide and unfortunately it has transferred into health systems too.

The ICN CEO Howard Catton said

“The pandemic exposed existing inequalities in health and now we are experiencing widening inequalities in terms of access to health care and key outcome indicators. Numerous studies, have shown that the pandemic has exacerbated health inequalities, for example higher mortality rates occurred among older people, people from certain ethnic backgrounds, disabled people, and those living in areas of socioeconomic disadvantage.”

The ICN has identified nurses as key to lead changes needed with health inequalities. “As the largest group of health professionals, and the most trusted, nurses are in a powerful position to directly act to dismantle and transform structural discrimination in health care.” ICN 

This statement shows that healthcare is a complex system with both health inequities and discrimination occurring with the unfair distribution of resources and health services in different populations, the direct impact is on peoples health outcomes.

In many parts of the world there are significant difficulties with access to healthcare services, the disparities in health outcomes are because of a persons socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity or geographic location.

In Australia, living close to urban cities gives people better access to quality healthcare of well-equipped hospitals, clinics and specialised medical services. Living in urban areas allows for easy access to a wide range of healthcare options, specialists, diagnostic tests and preventive care.

While people living in rural or remote communities may face barriers that limit their ability to receive appropriate medical care. The limited access to healthcare can mean that the nearest hospital can be hours or days away and to reach specialised medical services can be difficult. Challenges to not receiving medical attention at the right time may be caused by the lack of healthcare resources, which increases higher rates of preventable illnesses and delays in treatment.

Australia is a large country and to help reduce barriers to accessing care, the Royal Flying Doctor Service reaches people with emergency medical and primary health services. Another service that is available for people with good digital literacy and internet access is Tele-medicine, even from long distances different communities can receive monitoring, support or advice from health professionals.

Health inequalities with poorer health outcomes are in Indigenous Aboriginal people, Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous populations, they have less access to healthcare. Aboriginal health inequalities are deeply rooted in historical, social, economic and cultural factors. 

Significant disparities are found in life expectancy, mortality rates, chronic diseases, infant mortality, mental health, cultural and language barriers, disparities in maternal and child health and racism and discrimination.

Racism and discrimination in healthcare settings can cause any person to distrust or even be reluctant to seek medical help and delay timely treatment. The distrust may have outcomes on a persons health that is devastating.

  1. I was thinking at work as an individual nurse, how can I do what the ICN is asking? &
  2. With knowing health inequalities can one nurses effort turn into a collective effort?

After thinking about these questions I think as nurses we see firsthand the affect of peoples lives and we see the barriers that causes health inequalities especially when we hear the personal stories people tell us when we are caring for them on a one to one level. 

With a collective effort its definitely possible for nurses to come together and affect change especially with never forgetting to put focus on the person who is seeking health care.

The ICN has called on individual nurses to 

  • “Promote an environment in which the human rights, values, personal choices, customs and spiritual beliefs of individuals, families and communities are respected;
  • Work to protect, celebrate and promote the diversity of all persons to eliminate discrimination;
  • Speak out in the face of injustice; and
  • Look inwards and challenge their own privilege, assumptions and biases in order to provide care that truly meets the needs of the populations they serve.” ICN

Navigating the health system is scary for anyone especially as it is usually a vulnerable situation, the ICN is seeing that each individual nurses role is important to have an impact on structural discrimination. With awareness we can improve the relationship and interactions that all people have with health and social care services, to build trust.

For a person to be heard is everything, as nurses listening to concerns allows a person to express who they are. This can only be done by using respect with understanding that we are all from different worlds of cultural, social or a diverse backgrounds and adapting to an individuals health care in a way that they may need.

This position statement recognises that health inequities are unfair and that nurses as health professionals are dynamic. We understand the complex and sometimes deeply entrenched societal views and we can definitely work to give everyone a fair opportunity to have health equity.

Resources –

Thanks for reading

– Aussie Nurse

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