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Part one of a four-part special report by Noel O’Reilly looks at how the specialty has evolved, what the drivers are for change and how practitioners will face the demands of the 21st century.
The key factor that separates occupational health nurses and doctors from others in their respective professions is that they are based in the workplace. This has meant that, throughout the history of the specialism, OH practitioners have been caught between two masters: the nursing and the medical profession on the one hand and employers on the other.
As this publication enters a new phase in its evolution with a change in title from Occupational Health to Occupational Health & Wellbeing, the OH profession stands at a crossroads. OH nurse leaders have seized the initiative by working towards a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing. It is therefore a good moment to reflect on where OH has come from and where it is heading to in the future.
History of Occupational Health & Wellbeing publication
In March 1949, the first issue of a new quarterly, The Manchester University Journalfor Industrial Nurses, was published. The foreword highlighted the importance of the education of industrial nurses and doctors for special work in preventive medicine and nursing. The publication became bi-monthly in 1950, and it was taken over by the Royal College of Nursing in 1955. In January 1963 the title was changed to Occupational Health. From October 2015, the publication became Occupational Health & Wellbeing, again signalling a new era in the evolution of OH.
This article will focus on the journey that OH has made from its origins in industrial nursing to the complex challenges of work and health in the 21st century. We will ask what model of OH will be needed to meet the diverse needs of public health, employers and the Government, and what part OH nurses and doctors will play in that model.
No statutory requirement to provide OH services
With no statutory requirement for employers to provide access to OH services, practitioners have always had to justify their existence to the organisations that employed them. As Anne Harriss, associate professor for occupational health at London South Bank University says: “Without a statu