Occupational health doctors vote against plans for united body embracing OH nurses

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The Society of Occupational Medicine has pledged to work closely with OH nurses “to find out how it can better support them in the future” following the shock rejection in September of plans to combine the society and Faculty of Occupational Medicine into a single body.

Members of both organisations voted on the change in August, but it failed to get the two-thirds majority that it required to be passed.

In a joint statement, the society and faculty said that, while faculty members had voted in favour, along with more than 60% of the society’s membership, this had not been enough.

The recent defeat is a significant setback for both organisations, and for those who wanted to see the different strands of the profession working more closely together.

As Occupational Health went to press, the initial response online and on social media from many OH nurses was one of disappointment.

Anne Harriss, course director of OH nursing at London South Bank University said: “I had great hopes for the single organisation and The Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (UK) (AOHNP UK) working together. This could have had a significant impact on further elevating the professional status of OH nursing, Perhaps that is what worried some medics.”

Before the vote there had been indications of disquiet in some quarters. Opposition appeared particularly strong in the North West of England, where 16 faculty members in August circulated a joint letter complaining about what they called the failure by both boards to “provide explicit detailed answers on what they propose for our medical specialty” and “not adequately considering the options”.

Some members, however, made the point that, in sending a “no” message, the faculty and society members were not dismissing the idea out of hand but simply asking both bodies to look again at their plans.

In the immediate aftermath, both organisations have put a brave face on the defeat, arguing that they will continue to work together closely. The society said it would be placing a greater emphasis “on extending its membership and attracting more nurses and allied health professionals to become members”. It said it would undertake a review of the services that it provides, including considering extending its quality-assured appraisal scheme to encompass these groups. There would also be more work around the development of training and “enhancing OH nurse competencies”.

Faculty president Dr Richard Heron said: “We must build on this decision to listen to our members and refocus our attention.”

Society president Dr Alasdair Emslie added: “I hope that the society can also create a natural home for nurses and others working in occupational health.”

And Christina Butterworth, chair of the Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners (UK), said: “I believe that we can, and should, continue to work with the society and faculty to share and develop good practice in occupational health, and work together on setting professional standards of practice and continual professional development.”

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