A profession where occupational health physicians and nurses train side by side, overseen by a Faculty of Occupational Health, was presented to delegates as a possible vision of the future.
In a wide-ranging Question Time-style debate, Society of Occupational Health Nursing chair Cynthia Atwell asked whether, given the fact that occupational health remains a specialty shortage, it was time for doctors and nurses to be trained together, but with clearly defined pathways.
In response, Dr David Brown, deputy director of assessments at the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, said a huge revision of training in occupational medicine was already under way.
This included a new curriculum, new definitions of competencies, including more emphasis on “soft” competencies, and a revision of the assessment framework, something in which OH nurses could potentially play a much greater part.
“We are seeing opportunities for collaborative working between occupational physicians and nurses,” he stressed.
It was quite clear there was already a considerable degree of overlap in the different curricula, agreed John Harrison, clinical director for health and wellbeing and professor of clinical organisational development at Brunel University and Imperial College Healthcare Trust.
“So it seems to be a no-brainer to me that we should put these things together, but we need to understand the roles and break down barriers,” he said.
The key to such collaborative working was to understand where the boundaries were, and where competencies started and finished, stressed Carol Bannister, professional nursing department team leader at the Royal College of Nursing.
“If we can collaborate better with the society and faculty of occupational medicine, we can get something that is fit for purpose in terms of protecting the public,” she said.
A Faculty of Occupational Health was an “interesting idea”, she conceded, but something nurses would need to think about very carefully, as it was an expensive option.
“A lot of nurses like the idea. But is it really what we need? Are we prepared to pay the costs to belong to a faculty? Because it is not, and should not be, a cheap option,” she said.
For Brown, the answer lay, at least for now, in closer collaboration, rather than “a big bang process”. But he did not rule out the possibility of a combined faculty for the future.