There has been a great deal of uncertainty around the current and future position of occupational health nursing in recent times.
Both occupational health nurses (OHNs) and educationalists have been vocal about the issue, and the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) recognises it as well.
Many questions are being asked about the direction of the profession, and hopefully, I can clarify some of the points of confusion.
There is a common misconception that OHNs who are not on the specialist community public health nurses part of the NMC register must migrate over to maintain their registration with the NMC. This is not the case.
Registration on the third part of the register has always been an option that the NMC has provided for nurses who want to have their public health skills recognised. These nurses are, however, required to maintain their original nursing and/or midwifery registration.
Those still wishing to migrate to the third part of the register have until December this year to do so. This requires developing a portfolio, which identifies competence in public health nursing, and then having the portfolio verified by a higher education institution. Any fee charged to carry out this service is determined by the institution itself, and is not something the NMC has any control over.
In December last year, I was invited to speak at the joint Royal College of Nursing and Society of Occupational Medicine Conference in Cardiff. It proved to be a motivating forum as it truly captured the spirit of the profession, hearing from both nurses and physicians. Opinions were raised around topics such as the recruitment of specialists, OH education, and the perceived demography crisis. Naturally, there were a multitude of ideas on how to approach these issues, but even more predictably, no conclusions.
One area of concern that has been discussed is the perception that OH nurses are being wrongly grouped into the third part of the register alongside school nurses and health visitors. Having spoken directly with many OH nurses, I have had the chance to reassure them that contrary to popular belief, the NMC does recognise and understand the different skillsets required for these professions.
Far from the NMC ‘diluting’ OH education by perceived shared learning across the specialist community public health nursing, a set of Essential Skills Clusters (ESC) have been developed for OH nursing, and will be incorporated into the curriculum from September this year.
Basically, the ESCs identify which key areas of skill students will need to be competent in to practise as an OHN. From a consultation that ran throughout 2007, six essential skills for OH nursing were developed. These include: recognising the impact that workplace hazards have on the health of individuals and the wider community understanding, evaluating and applying relevant legislation relating to employment and health and safety law and also working at strategic levels with employers, staff and representatives to achieve optimum organisational health and productivity.
Other ESCs address adapting the workplace to meet the needs of vulnerable people, and using the workplace as a health-promoting environment to have a positive impact on health inequalities.
The idea behind ESCs stemmed from the public concern that practitioners did not achieve competence in particular areas of practice. Ensuring all students meet these specific requirements should restore confidence in employers that they are taking on nurses who have the depth of knowledge and skills required of an OH nurse.
I was pleased to hear a number of OH nurses and groups had responded to the NMC’s consultation on pre-registration nursing education, which closed on 8 February. Launched in November last year, this forward-thinking review looks at how to prepare the nursing profession for the future, ensuring that nursing education across all four countries will meet the future needs of patients.
It asks questions such as whether nurses should be trained to degree or diploma level, whether there should be generalist and/or branch programmes, and if so, what those branches should be.
I sincerely believe that those at the frontline of the profession need to be heard, as it is this experience and knowledge that will directly influence how tomorrow’s nurses are educated and work.
It was through a previous consultation that the NMC learned OH nurses wanted the opportunity to be recognised as a specialist community public health nurse. Your voices were heard and put into action, and so OH nurses were migrated to the third part of the register. If views have changed since then, the outcomes of the review should reflect this.
No-one can be certain what the future holds, but the outcomes of this consultation will help to shape a framework for what is a continually changing profession. See this as a step in the right direction in developing the future of OH nursing in the knowledge that you are an integral part of a highly skilled and essential group of professionals within the UK’s health services.
Julie Matthews, specialist community public health nursing professional adviser, Nursing and Midwifery Counci