Globalisation, patient safety, nursing leadership and climate change were among the myriad topics debated at the congress.
By NZNO president Grant Brookes
“I just want to say up front, we absolutely have deliberately put this topic on the agenda. For some, it’s a very controversial subject. There are people who may have extreme and differing views.
“It’s an issue which has become political over recent months as well, but there’s no doubt it is impacting on nurses, nursing practice and the work of our associations.”
With these words, ICN nursing and health policy director Howard Catton introduced the panel debate, Globalisation: Its impact on nurses and their associations, at the congress.
When I met Catton before speaking on the panel, he explained that under the leadership of president Judith Shamian and new chief executive Frances Hughes, ICN had been pushing for greater relevance by engaging with the major global challenges of today.
Alongside presentations on nursing leadership, nursing education and specific areas of practice, the congress elevated climate change, gender equality and sustainable development to headline this year’s agenda.
‘Care, compassion and advocacy’
The congress was opened by the former United States (US) deputy secretary of health in the Obama administration, Mary Wakefield, a nurse.
She called on nurses to lead the implementation of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals. Quoting former World Health Organization director-general Margaret Chan, she said we must tackle the root cause of ill health – inequality – and respond to the refugee crisis. “The core of our profession is care, compassion and advocacy for strangers,” Wakefield said.
World-leading researcher into clinical outcomes and nursing workloads Linda Aiken presented the latest evidence that safe staffing saves lives. Welsh chief nursing officer Jean White followed with a presentation on the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016.
Last year, Wales became the first country in Europe to pass legislation requiring the use of safe staffing tools in hospital inpatient wards.
The tools, now under development, have similarities to the care capacity demand management methodology, currently stalled in the implementation phase in many New Zealand district health boards. From 2018, the Welsh law says staffing levels must reflect patient acuity and the professional judgement of the nurse in charge.
Professor Barbara Sattler of the University of San Francisco began her presentation on climate by quoting from The Lancet: “Climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. The impacts will be felt all around the world – and not just in some distant future but in our lifetimes and those of our children.”
“We cannot have healthy people on a sick planet”, Sattler said. As well as encouraging activism for transition to low-carbon economies, she gave examples of nurse leadership in creating “climate-smart health care”.
These included ending the use of coal-fired hospital boilers in South Africa, solar-powered cold chains, “meatless Monday” food services and procurement policies for medicines and clinical supplies which favour low-carbon production.
In addition to my presentation on the impact of globalisation, the other NZNO speakers were kaiwhakahaere Kerri Nuku and professional nursing adviser Anne Brinkman.
Nuku spoke on NZNO’s role in the recent gains for advanced nursing practice in this country, including medicines management and nurse prescribing, while Brinkman’s presentation was titled Nurses leading in tomorrow’s globalised world.
Also from New Zealand, Otago University senior lecturer Daryle Deering and Heather Casey of the College of Mental Health Nurses Te Ao Mâramatanga spoke in a plenary session, on mental health and primary care.
Past president of the World Medical Association Michael Marmot, who is a global expert on the social determinants of health and author of The Health Gap, closed the congress.
He quoted Martin Luther King, that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”, in support of his two key messages for a world of “post-truth politics”– evidence-based policy, in a spirit of social justice.
With 8200 registrations, 88 sessions in a range of languages, 1900 posters and an unknown number of side meetings, any congress participant would have seen just a subjective snapshot. This was mine. •