For as long as she can remember, Siobhan Parslow-Williams has been passionate about climate action. At the age of nine, she won a Green Blue Peter badge for a project about climate change.
Whether it was protesting ahead of COP21, setting up the Parents for Future movement in Norwich, or co-founding the grassroots initiative Eco Action Families, climate action continued to be a huge part of Siobhan’s life. And when she qualified as a nurse in 2009, she started looking for opportunities to combine her personal passion with her career.
“It was when I read about how the climate crisis was the biggest public health threat of the 21st century that it really made me realise how my two roles were connected - as a nurse and also as a climate activist”, said Siobhan.
As a registered nurse, she has worked across emergency nursing, primary and secondary care, as well as clinical research and nursing education. “In terms of patient care, I feel that the health of the planet and the health of our patients are interlinked and, for me, a healthy planet equals healthy patients”, said Siobhan, adding that when you consider both “it allows you to have a more holistic view of patient care”.
Air quality and heat waves, in particular, are the most visible in terms of causing harm to patients in the UK, according to Siobhan. “I think the quality of air that we have is often in violation of the levels that are actually safe,” she explains, highlighting that in the UK alone 40,000 deaths a year are linked to air pollution, which also contributes to rising cases of asthma, COPD, and heart disease.
“On top of that, we have an increased incidence of heat waves, which can be linked to a higher incidence of stroke, as well as cardiac and kidney problems”, she adds.
Although the scale of the challenge that the climate crisis presents may deter some, Siobhan has a different perspective.
“I think what the Lancet said about climate change being the biggest public health threat of our time is true, but I think it also presents one of the biggest opportunities of our time - to be able to potentially change the course that we’re on for the better and improve patient and population outcomes in the long term”, she said.
In her current role as QI Education Lead at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, she is doing just that by working to embed sustainable healthcare and sustainable quality improvement into healthcare professionals’ education.
This is also where she made use of the Nurses Climate Challenge (NCC) Europe resources, educating over a hundred nursing students on climate and health. “The resources are brilliant. They are really easy to use and very well explained”, she said.
Whenever she gives presentations to nursing students, Siobhan integrates key lessons from the NCC Europe resources to raise awareness of the health impacts of climate change, healthcare’s contribution to the problem, and how it can be part of the solution.
“Overall, my impression is that the students want to know about this stuff, they want to learn”, she said reflecting on her students’ responses, highlighting that they were particularly surprised to learn how much the healthcare sector contributed to global emissions.
Educating nurses about climate and health right at the start of their career can make a huge difference in Siobhan’s opinion, because “nurses are in a fantastic position to be able to make positive change”. Not only do nurses deliver the majority of direct patient care, they also represent the biggest workforce in healthcare, working across different specialities and sectors, she explains.
She also highlights: “Nurses are one of the largest consumers of consumables in healthcare and often work in terms of procuring consumables, so they can have a huge impact on making positive changes to the patients that they work with and to healthcare procurement.”
Siobhan joined the NCC Europe because it puts nurses front and centre and encourages them to take action. “It’s great to know that there are other nurses that are working on this,” she explains, adding that it’s not only empowering, but that it also helps to normalise nurses involving themselves in climate action.
“As a nurse, it’s our duty to protect patients and public health,” Siobhan said, “I think a great way of doing that is by joining the Nurses Climate Challenge. It allows us to empower our fellow nurses so that we can ultimately improve patient care now and in the future.”
Siobhan lives in Norwich, England, with her family, who share her passion for climate action. She enjoys going on walks in the woods or on the beach with them and their Border Collie Sheepdog. She also loves reading, music, and going to festivals.
If you’re interested in transforming the lives of patients for the better like Siobhan, why not become a Nurse Climate Champion yourself, and learn how you can make a difference? By providing the necessary resources, the NCC Europe aims to mobilise nurses across the region to educate health professionals on the impacts of climate change on human health.
To learn more about Siobhan’s work at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, check out the Sustainability in Quality Improvement (SusQI) resource, under Additional Resources. “Sometimes when we learn about the climate crisis, it can often be quite overwhelming” Siohban said, “The SusQI framework allows nurses to really look at their area of practice, breakdown a problem, and gives them the tools to take action in that area.