More than eight out of 10 OH nurses in the UK feel they are not professionally supported, with existing nursing and medical bodies failing to adequately represent them, their needs or interests.
Research conducted by the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing (FOHN) development group and the OH research and publishing group The At Work Partnership has argued there is a clear appetite within the profession for practitioners to be better represented and for their voice to be heard more clearly.
The study concluded there are an estimated 4,950 nurses currently working within occupational health in the UK. And around two-thirds of them are on the Specialist Community Public Health Nursing – Occupational Health (SCPHN-OH) part of the Nursing and Midwifery Council register.
Yet the online poll of 1,429 OH nurses found just 17% felt “represented” by an OH body, and only 44% said they felt “professionally supported” at work.
Most did not belong to a dedicated OH body or association, although the vast majority (93%) were members of the Royal College of Nursing, even though it no longer has a dedicated section for OH nurses – its Society of Occupational Health Nursing having been wound up in 2009.
Nine out of 10 (87%) of those polled agreed a “Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing” would benefit the future of OH nursing, and three out of four (74%) said they would join such an organisation. For the one in four who were undecided, the possible cost of membership was seen as the main barrier.
FOHN development group chair Jo Berriman said: “The results of this survey underline the need to establish a national representative body for OH nurses to take this important profession forward in helping to improve the health of the working population.
“The landscape of work is rapidly changing; employers are seeking alternative health-at-work services and there is an increasing shortage of new OH nursing talent coming through to replace those who are now approaching retirement.
“Because OH nurses operate very differently to other nursing colleagues, the nature of our practice has often been misunderstood by professional and regulatory bodies alike. OH professionals need representation by an organisation that truly understands the work we do and the challenges we face,” she said.