This article first appeared in the Summer 2022-23 of the Hive. The Hive is an ACN Member-only quarterly publication to showcase the length and breadth of our members and their expertise and experience. Learn more on our website.
In August 2022, at the Australian College of Nursing’s (ACN) National Nursing Forum (NNF) in Darwin, the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Hon Ged Kearney MP, announced Claire Lane MACN as the winner of the 2022 Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers (Trailblazer Award).
Claire was named the winner for her work founding the not-for-profit Save our Supplies (SOS) in 2012 in Brisbane. Taking on the challenge of addressing the enormous waste in the hospital system, SOS provides collection bins in three major Brisbane hospitals to collect reusable medical supplies that would otherwise be added to landfill. SOS then repackages the supplies and, working with other charities such as Rotary, redistributes them to hospitals and organisations in developing countries. This not only eliminates waste but also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and hospital waste removal fees. ACN spoke to Claire about her work and what the award means for her and for SOS.
What were you thinking about when you were announced as the winner?
I was in a bit of shock for the day and I think it took about a week to sink in. It is amazing. I only ever dreamt of getting this far when I started SOS in the granny flat in my parent’s backyard. Just to be nominated as a finalist was mind-blowing!
What was the impetus for you setting up Save Our Supplies and how has it developed?
I grew up watching a show called Captain Planet, so I was always environmentally conscious. It was in my job as a theatre nurse that I saw all the wastage of perfectly good medical supplies. They didn’t reach the high standards of care in the Australian hospital environment but were perfectly usable and can be used in many environments outside hospitals. They are also invaluable to developing nations.
One day we threw away three total hip packs worth $300 each with around 30 supplies in each pack. It really pained me that we were just binning it. When I asked my supervisor and teachers about it, they just said it’s the way it’s always been done. This didn’t sit well with me so I went home and started calling places that would take the packs, but I quickly found out there was nowhere actively collecting clean medical supplies.
The father of my children was studying for his MBA, so he knew how to get the legal registrations done and I started sorting the first lot of supplies from the granny flat we were living in at the time.
My Save Our Supplies initiative has generated both humanitarian and environmental impacts for the community.
A lack of resources, infrastructure and financial accessibility makes it difficult for people in developing countries to access appropriate medical care. Health care providers in these countries are limited in the care they can provide without proper equipment, supplies and a clean environment in which to work. We are helping to improve healthcare outcomes in these nations as well as disadvantaged groups in our own communities by providing (free of charge) repurposed items collected from Australian hospitals.
SOS delivers 400 different types of medical supplies to communities and people in need all over the world. Since SOS began, we have delivered supplies valued at over $7 million. In 2021 alone, delivered approximately $2 million worth of supplies. In addition, SOS supplies have been delivered to Australian specialist doctors who travel overseas to deliver a range of volunteer medical services thereby helping them to expand and improve the range of care options they are able to provide.
Our supplies have also been used to assist disadvantaged community groups in Queensland and were even able to provide Personal Protection Equipment to local Brisbane hospitals at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when stock ran low. SOS was also able to help a number of charities involved in caring for injured animals following the devastating 2019/20 bushfires by providing burn injury-related supplies.
In the years since SOS started, we have saved an estimated 35 tonnes of perfectly usable medical supplies from going to landfill. An important requirement for creating a long-term and lasting environmental impact is to change the mindset of those that are creating the problem. To this end, SOS has been successful in convincing many major Brisbane hospitals that their waste does not need to be dumped but can be recycled for use in countries that need them the most. We now have 13 hospitals in Brisbane as partners – up from three in the last 12 months! We also have a waiting list of many other Queensland and interstate hospitals that want to join the SOS initiative.
Do you have any advice for others who are thinking of new initiatives that will benefit the nursing and wider community?
If you truly believe in your idea, then don’t get discouraged if people tell you that nothing will change, it’s always been that way or that’s just the way we do it here. Don’t give up but persevere. There are lots of great people in the nursing and medical communities so speak to as many as you can and build up a network of support and make it happen.
Believe in yourself because one person really can make a difference!
What do you think the win means for Save Our Supplies and for nurse-led initiatives?
I think it is an important step forward. Nurses should be at the decision and policy making table. We spend the most amount of time with patients, in the departments and in the day-to-day running of hospitals. I think it is important for the next generation of nurses to know that it can take just one person to make a difference.
How will you use the award to further your work?
I am hoping to use this accolade to lobby the highest levels of government. I want to put an end to Australia throwing out perfectly good medical supplies when, globally, there are millions of people who can benefit from them. I also want to demonstrate that this can be achieved with minimal running costs. It will also save millions on previously wasted supplies and waste disposal costs.
As an immediate next step, my aim is to get SOS bins into every hospital and medical clinic throughout Australia. I want it to be part of public health policy for hospitals to use these collection bins.
My dream is to secure funding for SOS and make this my full-time job.
Nominations are now open for the 2023 Health Minister’s Award for Nursing Trailblazers. If you know a nurse who is innovating or transforming the way our health and aged care systems work by impacting costs, improving quality of care and enhancing consumer satisfaction, nominate them today.