Occupational health must consider how it presents itself to wider world

Instead of constantly blaming others for being overlooked and undervalued, occupational health needs to take a long, hard look at what it does and how it presents itself to the wider world, Wales’ top nurse told the conference.

Rosemary Kennedy, chief nursing officer for the Welsh Assembly, conceded that occupational health is often misunderstood but, contentiously, argued that it could be occupational health professionals, as much as anyone else, who are to blame for this.

“If you are undervalued as a service, are you part of the problem? Why is it that, when you have such an important role to fulfil, there are still large tranches of the workforce, including many managers, who do not value you?” she questioned.

Kennedy argued that the issue of confidentiality, while hugely important to OH, could actually be part of the problem.

OH often physically locates itself out of sight to ensure that patients are confident they could come to OH in confidence.

But this could also lead to OH being out of mind, with OH nurses withdrawing into their shells, rather than striving to maintain a higher profile within their organisations.

“There is a problem of visibility, a problem of being seen in the workplace. How can you say someone is fit for work if you do not understand the challenges of that job?” Kennedy asked.

“I would like to see OH services out there really knowing what all the jobs are in their organisation,” Kennedy said.

OH should be a first port of call, not simply somewhere managers go when they have run out of ideas about to deal with a problem, she added.

What OH needed to be doing more was embracing what she called the three “ships” – partnership, leadership and ownership.

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