The last few weeks have been tough. Flooding across many parts of the country has brought communities together but also highlighted how isolated and vulnerable many citizens are. Nurses and midwives continue to play an important role in managing and supporting the whole health and social care economy and the public concern regarding sewage contamination and high bacterial levels in floodwater creates additional challenges for frontline staff. Nurses and midwives working in front line health and social care services therefore need to be aware of the current local situation, in order to provide relevant public health advice such as how basic hand hygiene can protect against floodwater related illnesses such as stomach upsets, and reminding people as they start to clean-up not to use petrol or diesel generators or other fuel driven equipment indoors, as their fumes contain carbon monoxide.
PHE has published guidance to support post flooding recovery and specialist nurses alongside all staff in local Public Health England Centres are working tirelessly to assist local authorities and the Environment Agency to manage the public health impact of extreme weather events. PHE also employs nurses and midwives who work across PHE, such as in the Extreme Events team and embedded in NHS England Area Teams. Their public health expertise and skills are invaluable at times like these.
These extreme weather events remind us how vulnerable we all are and importantly, how essential community resilience is to build capacity to reduce the impact from natural hazards. Supporting one another to protect communities’ health and wellbeing is taking health protection to another level. Health protection integrates with the other two domains of public health (health improvement and healthcare public health) and has the potential to be very powerful indeed. It is amazing how strong a local community can be in times of stress.
This week we're running our second nursing week of action, focused on increasing the visibility of the work nurses and midwives do in protecting health. This includes not just the role I described above, with nurses in contributing to community resilience and protecting during the current extreme events, but also how health protection will be tackled by new generations of nurses.
Last week I was invited to deliver a keynote at Kingston University and judge some awards. 250 third year undergraduate nursing students undertook a two week alternative practice placement. Five teams then presented their experiences to the group, and we chose the winner. The overall aim of this experience was to look at sustainability, community resilience, ways of reducing social isolation and improving and protecting health and wellbeing.
In addition to the overall winner, there were four award categories: innovation, learning, passion and commitment.
To say I was blown away is an understatement. The students embraced this challenge with vigour and optimism. They tackled politically challenging issues such as sustainable fishing (Ugly Fish Friday), waste management (showing the students videos of waste such as continence pads that take up to 500 years to decompose). They talked about the potential dangers of disposing of medication into the water supply. They explored a humanist approach to burial where all profits go towards a sustainable open space in the woods, normalising death and celebrating life. Finally, a group explored the potential of engaging with nature, with examples like taking hospitalised individuals outside to listen to the various sounds, breathing fresh air and using nature as sound and backdrop. And for those who are unable to go outside? They talked about bringing nature inside. Playing sounds of birdsong and ensuring the individual has connection with nature. One excellent idea was to bring in fish bowl. Simple!
Protecting our resources. Acting now to do their bit to build future resilience.
One of the lecturers showed such commitment and drive. It was infectious. You could tell how well she is regarded by the students. Later, we discussed an initiative that has been growing since 2005. Heritage 2 Health connects vulnerable or socially isolated individuals with different local agencies with the ultimate aim to connect with nature and build community resilience and facilitate healing. Volunteers link up others from the community and education and set themselves challenges.
If this isn't health protection, I don’t know what is. Go to their website for more information or to sign up. I have!
We'll also be talking about all these issues and more as part of our nursing and midwifery health protection week of action, so follow #NMProtectHealth on Twitter to get involved.