As she enters the National School of Occupational Health as its new deputy head, Janet O’Neill reflects on the school’s aims, achievements, and what she hopes to accomplish in her new role.
For those who are unaware of the school, let me introduce you. The National School of Occupational Health (NSOH) is part of Health Education England (HEE), in collaboration with the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), with an administrative centre in Leicester.
HEE is part of the NHS and is in the process of merging with NHS England and NHS Improvement to better align its services, including workforce planning. This is also part of a wider merger process, as NHS Improvement is itself being folded into NHS England this month (July). You can see the sense in this streamlining, as HEE is focused on the workforce and “exists to support the delivery of excellent healthcare and health improvement to the patients and public of England by ensuring that the workforce of today and tomorrow has the right numbers, skills, values and behaviours, at the right time and in the right place”.
The NSOH is a branch of HEE, working in collaboration with FOM, because, as we know, OH is unique in the world of health – it is funded by employers, rather than the NHS.
Occupational health challenges
The school is headed up by Dr Ali Hashtroudi, who is well respected in the OH world as the clinical director of occupational health and safety services at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, medical officer for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, and an honorary senior lecturer at King’s College London.
The NSOH has a vision “to train a 21st century occupational health workforce that has the capability and capacity to optimise the workability of the working-age population”. The purpose of the school is to promote the highest standards of quality training and to quality manage the provision of clinical training for a multidisciplinary occupational health workforce in England and Wales. Never has this been more important than now.
How I became involved in NSOH
Some years ago, the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing (FOHN), developed an education committee, which brought together individuals from the world of OH and OH education, of which I was a very interested party. This forum was strongly supported by Mandy Murphy, the then deputy head of the NSOH and, for many of us, our first introduction to the school.
Since then, I have always been interested in projects involving the improvement of OH, especially from a practical, service-delivery perspective. Having worked in OH for many years and in several roles, including clinical governance and training, I have seen first-hand how important education, training and competence are in the field for quality service delivery. The need for good-quality OH services, delivered by a multidisciplinary team is more important than ever since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many stakeholders, including the government, are citing the importance of OH in assisting organisations with the health and wellbeing of their employees and enabling individuals to remain in and return to work. The school’s strategy of supporting the development of a 21st century occupational health workforce fits well with this ambition.
My aims at NSOH
Being appointed as the new deputy head of the NSOH is an exciting opportunity to take this interest in a much wider and strategic direction. But, I have big shoes to fill.
Being appointed as the new deputy head of the NSOH is an exciting opportunity to take this interest in a much wider and strategic direction.”
Mandy Murphy supported numerous projects within education, including the apprenticeship standards, the development of a framework for OH education, a career framework, and a framework for practice educators, working with several stakeholders including FOHN.
She was also part of the working group set up to revise the standards for the Specialist Community Public Health Nursing standards, which include OH, and which are due to be put in place from as early as September 2023. Mandy achieved a significant amount in her time as deputy and I can only hope I do half as good a job.
My first task since taking the reins is an enjoyable one – to meet as many people as I can to obtain their views on the school, training, and on the future of the OH workforce.
I have been meeting with universities delivering OH education, OH providers both big and small, recruiters, OH groups such as SOM (the Society of Occupational Medicine), FOHN and the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, and have meetings due with the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, the Association of Occupational Health Physiotherapists and Ergonomists (ACPOHE), The Association of Occupational Health and Wellbeing Professionals (iOH), the Vocational Rehabilitation Society, and many more.
From this, I hope to develop a good picture of the current state of play and what is needed to meet the challenges the OH profession faces. We are fortunate to have a great range of support in the profession with several passionate individuals happy to provide their time to promote quality OH.
Plans for the not-too-distant future are to bring back the newsletter, support the NHS Growing OH Together strategy, to deliver another successful conference, and to facilitate training sessions. Another keen goal is to introduce OH to those from the multidisciplinary team still in pre-registration training.
Overall, there are exciting times ahead and I am so pleased to be part of it.