Inaugural conference builds momentum for Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing

Some nine months on from its launch, how is the newest organisation within the OH landscape, the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing, doing? Nic Paton attended its inaugural annual conference in June to find out.

“Quality, quality, quality” was the strapline for the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing’s (FOHN) inaugural annual conference in June, held in Bristol and piggy-backing on the annual conference and meeting of the Society of Occupational Medicine and Faculty of Occupational Medicine, which ran over the following two days.

Look out for a review of the day’s talks and presentations in the September edition of Occupational Health & Wellbeing but, some nine months on from the formal launch of the faculty, how is the newest body on the occupational health landscape doing?

After all, getting a new organisation established, gaining traction and influence, can be challenging at the best of times, let alone in the difficult economic and political landscape in which we currently find ourselves.

To try to find out, I sat down in Bristol with Christina Butterworth, chief operating officer at the faculty, and registrar Sue Carty to get an update on how things are bedding down.

“It’s been an amazing first conference – we’ve been very pleased with the turnout and the speakers we had. I hope people have found it interesting, informative and inspiring,” said Butterworth.

In terms of signed-up members, as of June the faculty had 105 members, a slower start than had been hoped for as, back in the autumn, the ambition had been 500 “as a starting point by the end of the first year”. It was also disappointing, considering that 864 OH nurses who answered the FOHN survey in 2016 said they would join, Butterworth highlights.

But part of that has been down to embedding the faculty’s back office and administrative systems, and Butterworth points out that there are around 250 people who have signed up through the faculty’s website but whose membership has yet to be converted or completed.

Events gaining momentum

Clearly, then, it is still early days. But Carty emphasises that the faculty’s events programme is now gaining momentum. As well as the annual conference, the intention is to hold a leadership forum in Liverpool in October, and more details on this will be published as they become available, while a programme of webinars was launched over the summer.

A three-day training course on getting into occupational health nursing is also being developed, hopefully to be delivered near the end of this year. “It is primarily for nurses who may be thinking of retraining to come into occupational health, but also for people perhaps in allied health professions who are considering occupational health as a career move,” says Carty.

“It is all about trying to promote occupational health nursing as being a proper specialism, a proper specialty, as well as working to guide people who want to come into the profession,” she adds.

The organisation’s committee structure is well underway, too, with committees being set up to look at education and professional development, and quality and practice. A suite of guidance documents for employers on how better to understand occupational health, OH roles and what everyone does and can deliver within OH is also set to be published.

A workshop “Shaping the future of OHN education” was held in January, and the faculty is continuing to work closely with a range of OH organisations, including the National School of Occupational Health, the Society of Occupational Medicine, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), the Council for Work and Health and the government’s Health and Work Unit, among others.

With the NMC, the faculty is part of the council’s independent review into nursing standards. The faculty is also spending time engaging with the Centre of Occupational and Environmental Health as part of The Occupational Health and Research Network (THOR) on work being done around changing the eligibility for reporting to include occupational health nurses.

Finally, and just as importantly, there is the faculty’s advocacy role. The annual conference and other public events as they come on stream clearly have a part to play in this, as does the gradually developing pipeline of activity and publications.

Indeed – full disclosure – I was an invited speaker at the conference in Bristol, and spoke about the importance and value of OH nurses putting themselves out for public scrutiny by writing for publication, whether that be academic research, best practice articles and case studies (for example within Occupational Health & Wellbeing or other peer or professional publications), blogs or other online content.

And this is something that, as Butterworth highlights, will hopefully develop and gain its own momentum over time. As she puts it: “Our role is about helping people who want to come into the profession to know what they need to know. But we also have an important role in terms of developing and being a voice for occupational health nurses.

“It is about ensuring that nurses’ viewpoints are heard, that occupational health nursing is being heard,” she adds.

To use a gardening analogy, it is arguable that the past nine to 10 months have been about the faculty germinating the seed and bedding down the roots. Even if currently the shoots from this are still relatively small, from these, hopefully over time, will come the growth and voice the specialty needs.

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