Nursing and Midwifery Council needs to get real about occupational health

We’ve been at it for almost 130 years now, and it’s all down to Phillipa Flowerday – the nurse from the mustard factory who taught the UK workforce to look after their occupational health and wellbeing. And it is 73 years ago since the Royal College of Nursing’s first Industrial Nursing Course began, supported by funds from the Ministry of Labour and National Service (oh happy days) when, as a result of the post-war increase in factory production, the need for ‘industrial nurses’ was identified.

We all accept that change is one of the only true certainties in life, and in terms of professional registration, oh my have we seen some changes over the years. One of them was the introduction of part three of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register, which has not been without its troubles for the OH nursing fraternity.

Now my career is important to me, and I’m sure yours is to you, too, and when we achieved our OH qualification and eagerly waited for migration on to part three, we thought we had arrived. A specialist nurse? No – never! I recall us all asking: has the NMC finally recognised our knowledge, skills, experience, and contribution to the nation’s health? Is this a milestone in the history of nursing?

Well, perhaps for some, but not for all. You see, you may have the piece of paper duly signed, but then you search the NMC register and – shock horror – the much-worked for OH qualification is not recorded on part three.

You contact the NMC, and ask the obvious question: “What happened?” And then you wait, and you wait, and you receive a reply that they are ‘looking into it’. In the meantime, you think about that plumb job advertised in Occupational Health, prepare your CV, and attend the interview. You get the job offer, and then you hear that your prospective employer is questioning the statement on your CV that you are a specialist community public health nurse (SCPHN). You know you are – you have the scars to prove it – but that is not enough.

The number of OH practitioners to whom this scenario applies is unknown, so come on, NMC – you owe us an explanation.

The issues posed in Occupational Health by Andrew Nicholl (Letters, July 2007), questioning the NMC’s stance on nurse education in OH, are a demonstration perhaps of the NMC’s naivety about our specialty. I am the first to applaud and support the role of the practice teachers and the supporting standards required, especially the need for an appropriate level and due process in terms of mentorship. However, as approximately 70% of the nurses employed in our specialty work outside the NHS, we must ask whether our employers, particularly those in the private sector, will be willing or able to support the extensive mentorship preparation in supporting students, and be in a position to support the requirement that SCPHN students are supernumerary. Would someone please explain to the employer or the lone practitioner how this is supposed to work?

The current lack of suitably qualified practice teachers is a challenge for the profession, and encouragement to those with the desire, time and skills to undertake this task is to be welcomed. But in the interim, until sufficient numbers of OH practice teachers become available, are we happy to accept the NMC’s suggestion that other members of the SCPHN fraternity, such as school nurses or health visitors, could be allowed to confirm the competency of the student OH nurse? Come on NMC, get real!

Until such time as we have enough qualified practice teachers, I would encourage you to support OH students and the universities seeking potential practice teachers. Doing so will ensure that we maintain the value we hold on our specialty, and develop the unique relationship between mentor and student, allowing exposure to a range of OH environments and skills ensuring that the future SCPHN is fit for purpose, and can add value to the maintenance of the health and wellbeing of UK plc.

So, NMC, perhaps now is the time for a bit of reflection, so that you can make a good go of Not Messing [up] my Career.

By Graham Johnson, operations manager, Bupa Wellness

This is Graham Johnson’s personal view.

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