The head of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has sparked controversy by describing the third part of the register as a “shambles” in need of reform and questioning whether or not occupational health nurses should even sit in that part of the register.
NMC chief executive and registrar Professor Dickon Weir-Hughes told the Unite Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association conference in October that he did not understand why certain professions had been included on the specialist community public health nurses (SCPHNs) register when others had not. Occupational health nurses, for example, saw themselves more as nurses rather than SCPHNs, he suggested.
“There was a lot of lobbying to include certain roles [on the register]. There are roles inside and roles outside and it doesn’t make any sense. I know it’s a bit of a shambles,” he said.
“This term ‘specialist’, which is always very contentious, we need to tease out what we mean by that because there are lots of people regulated by the NMC who would regard themselves as specialists but are not on the register,” he added.
The NMC register was created in 2004 and the third part includes occupational health nurses, sexual health advisers, health visitors and school nurses in one “catch all” SCPHN category.
In October last year, the NMC announced that it would be carrying out a “full review” of this part of the register but no further developments are expected until 2012, with final proposals expected near the end of the year, the council told Occupational Health magazine.
But Weir-Hughes’ comments caused a storm of indignation from many occupational health practitioners, particularly on internet discussion forums.
“The NMC needs to get its act together and have some leadership that is aware of the broader picture and the part that nurses on all parts of the register have in achieving health for all,” said one practitioner.
But another added: “I totally agree that part three is surrounded by red tape and on the whole is unnecessary.”
Anne Harriss, course director at London South Bank University, said that Weir-Hughes’ comments echoed words he used to her in a meeting a year ago.
“To say we are not public health nurses is ridiculous. We are public health, that is what we do. To say we all see ourselves as nurses is equally ridiculous – many of my graduates prefer to call themselves ‘advisers’ because they do not want the association of dealing with sickness that goes with nursing,” she added.
“We are public health nurses, there is no two ways about it,” added occupational health and education consultant Greta Thornbory, “if you look at the definition of public health, we fulfil that criteria. His comments were naïve and suggest he does not understand nursing.”