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The third part of a series of articles on the evolution of OH focuses on OH nurse competencies and education. Noel O’Reilly asks if future training of OH practitioners will take place alongside that of allied practitioners.
The launch of a National School of Occupational Health in 2014 signalled a recognition among occupational health practitioners that future workplace health and wellbeing services will be provided by a range of professions.
Furthermore, the initiative acknowledged that the roles and educational requirements of practitioners will overlap. The school, launched by Health Education England (HEE) and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, is intended to “promote and develop multi-professional training of work and health” (Council for Work and Health (CWH, 2014).
However, collaboration between practitioners does not always prove straightforward in practice. OH doctors’ body the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) opened up its membership to associated healthcare professionals in OH in 2012. Many practitioners hoped that a ballot of members for a merger of SOM and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) in 2014 would lead to further integration of OH doctors and other practitioners. These expectations were thwarted when too few faculty members supported the merger. OH nurses responded by seizing the initiative with the launch in 2015 of a project to develop a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing (FOHN).
While some physicians voted against joining forces with other practitioners due to concerns about protecting specialist education for doctors, the reality is that both OH doctors and nurses will have to share responsibility for delivering services with allied practitioners in future. This is because numbers of OH nurses and doctors in the UK are small and are now in decline.