Keeping OH on the agenda

Once again, the International Centre at Harrogate was the venue for Congress, and this year’s theme was ‘talking politics’.

However, being held a week before the general election had the effect of silencing some normally vocal and articulate nurses who, because of their jobs as civil servants, were unable to take part in some of the debates.

Although only a few ‘regulars’ were absent, this still had a palpable effect, with a little less passion and emotion from speakers. Nevertheless, there was a good range of subjects and some very interesting topics.

Those reviewed are either OH specific, public health or of a relevant generalist nature.

Resolution submitted by the RCN Pain Forum

That Congress believes that everyone should have equal access to healthcare, regardless of their lifestyle before and after treatment

Lifestyle is not always a choice, and for many, social, physical or mental factors can have a significant effect on behaviour. The simplistic approach taken by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) was condemned for failing to acknowledge this. The legal, ethical and professional problems generated by withholding treatment were also discussed.

Limited resources, both financial and biological, were used to argue against the resolution.

For: 430, Against: 20, Abstained: 23

Resolution submitted by the RCN Pain Forum

That Congress believes that the Council for the Regulation of Healthcare Professionals’ (CRHCP) powers are unnecessary as those of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) are sufficient

This debate considered issues arising from professional conduct issues heard and cleared by the NMC but subsequently taken up by the CRHCP, if it believed the matter had not been dealt with adequately. A nurse would therefore be tried twice for the same offence.

Arguing for the CRHCP, speakers said that the protection of the public was paramount, and that it was essential that vulnerable people should be protected. This was the closest vote with the largest number of abstentions of the week.

For: 204, Against: 192, Abstained: 56

Discussion submitted by the RCN Information Nursing Group

That Congress discusses whether the spread of Information Technology has a positive or negative impact on the nurse/patient relationship

The effects of technology on workers was discussed, along with the pressures of keeping up to date with IT-related working practices. This discussion was extended to illustrate how the explosion of IT affected nurses in particular, with many patients better informed by health information from the internet.

Resolution submitted by RCN Newham Branch

That Congress urges Council to lobby the NMC to provide guidance on suitable student numbers in placement areas

This debate highlighted the current strains on clinical areas and the availability and ability of mentors to support students. Examples were cited of mentors having up to three students each, and of some mentors not being trained or adequately skilled to do the job. This was given as a cause of high attrition rates for those undertaking pre-registration training.

Concerns were also raised on health and safety issues. It was stressed that students deserve effective mentorship, and it was felt that the NMC should take the lead on this.

Resolution submitted by the Welsh Board

That Congress asks Council to urge governments to act on the serious impact that pay and career modernisation in the NHS will have on the recruitment and retention of nurse educators

High hopes for this debate – given that it involved a group of the RCN Society of Occupational Health Nurses’ most articulate colleagues – were soon dashed.

However, there were some sensible suggestions, such as rotating posts between clinical areas and education. Despite the poor arguments, the resolution was carried.

For: 389, Against: 58, Abstained: 19

Matter for discussion submitted by the RCN Stewards’ Committee

That Congress discusses the way forward in developing the new pay agreements for unsocial hours under Agenda for Change

Congress was reminded that although there had been a ‘reprieve’ on this issue, there was limited time to agree an alternative scheme. To staff who run a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service, it is essential to have a fair scheme, which should be as good as the existing one.

As this issue was currently being negotiated by Council, it asked for as much freedom to act as possible, and therefore asked Congress not to suggest specific restrictions.

Discussion submitted by the RCN Health Visitors and Public Health Forum

That Congress discusses whether nurses have enough information, training and appropriate equipment to deal with major incidents

Although an interesting topic, it did illustrate some of the ignorance still surrounding the subject. For example, outlining their role in a disaster situation, public health nurses attempted to define the difference between a major incident (one that we are prepared for) and a disaster (one that we are not prepared for).

It was suggested that each hospital develop a plan, although even where plans exist, it would appear that staff are not always aware of them. Unfortunately, the most significant current risk – pandemic flu – was not mentioned.

Matter for discussion submitted by RCN Mental Health Forum

That Congress discusses the changes in mental health legislation on the nurse/patient relationship

The general view expressed during this debate was that as a reaction to some high-profile media cases, often involving recently discharged mental health patients, the government had introduced ‘knee-jerk’ legislation, making it more difficult to gain trust and adequately care for people with mental health problems.

Discussion submitted by the RCN Leicester Branch

That Congress urges Council to widen the categories of healthcare assistant (HCA) membership

Originally accepted as a resolution, but reassigned as a discussion due to its inclusion on the Council agenda, this informative debate highlighted the importance of the ‘bigger picture’ in healthcare – particularly now that as a group, HCAs are becoming widely accepted in the NHS and elsewhere. Professional groups have moved to assimilate healthcare workers into their organisations.

Trade unions were said to have already recognised the potential increases in membership, and were actively recruiting healthcare assistants.

Resolution submitted by the RCN Ophthalmic Nursing Forum

That Congress asks Council to lobby the government to ensure that nurses have the same rights as doctors concerning continuing professional development

Congress veterans could be forgiven for initially having a sense of dja vu on this topic, particularly on the comparisons with medics. However, this was a high-quality debate that saw some articulate nurses speaking passionately, and securing almost universal support.

It was said that good practice, based on sound education, resulted in the best outcomes for patients. Various reasons were given as to why it was difficult to deliver ongoing education – the most significant being pressure on the service.

Nurses were urged not to feel guilty about taking time out for training. Education should not only be funded and supported, but should also be expected.

For: 441, Against: 4, Abstained: 3

Matter for discussion submitted by the RCN North West Health Regional Board

That Council discusses the dilemma faced by nurses when exposed to tobacco smoke in the workplace, and the action the RCN can take towards achieving a smoke-free environment

Perhaps because so much has been achieved on this already, this debate was slightly subdued.

It was welcomed that Congress was for the first time completely smoke free, including the social events in the evenings. Areas – notably mental health, where nurses were still exposed to smoke in the workplace – were discussed, but no real solutions were given. At the end of this debate, it was clear that while there is a strong anti-smoking lobby, the will to change things might be lacking.

Resolution by the RCN Derby Branch

That Congress urges Council to lobby healthcare providers and the government to recycle more of the vast quantities of waste produced in the delivery of services

The focus of this debate was on the huge amount of waste generated by the NHS each year, and what actions could be taken to address this. It was suggested that reducing packaging waste could be incorporated into purchasing specifications, while the pharmaceutical industry could be lobbied to prevent unnecessary packaging, and better sorting at ward level would help reduce clinical waste. There were no surprises in this debate, which was accepted as a resolution.

For: 378, Against: 5, Abstained: 2

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Kev O’Connor is OH services manager at Antrim Area Hospital, and a member of the RCN Society of Occupational Health Nurses steering committee.

E-mail: [email protected]

John Goodland memorial lecture chaired by Carol Bannister

BOXTEXT: This lecture was delivered by Bill Callaghan, from the Health & Safety Executive, who spoke of the value of health and safety legislation in producing a safe working environment.

Much of his talk was familiar ground to OH nurses. It was positive that he acknowledged the contribution of OH, and said that his service was keen to develop links with OH professionals and indeed with other groups, such as HR, on issues such as stress.

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