Occupational Health nurses call for sweeping changes to education and regulation

Should the NMC extend the range of OH nurses who qualify to be mentors in order to  safeguard the future of the profession?
Should the NMC extend the range of OH nurses who qualify to be mentors in order to safeguard the future of the profession?

Occupational health nurses leading the development of a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing (FOHN) have called for sweeping changes to OH education, funding and regulation.  

In a paper published today, the FOHN’s Faculty Development Group (FDG) calls for more specialist OH education, the removal of the requirement for OH nurses to be educated with other Specialist Community Public Health Nurses (SCPHN), and a quality assurance process to ensure that OH degree courses meet new standards.

“The FDG believes that the current system of nurse education, funding and regulation is failing employees, employers and nurses, alike, and recognizes that this may, in part, be due to a lack of knowledge about OH as a specialism,” the paper states.

It also claims that OH nurses are graduating from courses with very mixed levels of experience, knowledge and skills, and too many on SCPHN courses are inadequately prepared to work in the specialism.

With reference to the Nursing and Midwifery Council ‘s (NMC) current review of part 3 of the SCPHN register, the paper calls for changes to OH nurse regulation, registration and the way OH qualifications are recorded. It warns that failing to act will lead to an erosion of OH standards and threatens to jeopardise public safety.

The paper makes 16 recommendations in total, split into two sections, the first working within the existing NMC SCPHN model and the second in the context of “proposed future changes”. Key proposals are:

  • SCPHN courses must be more closely aligned with the needs of future OH strategy and evidence-based provision;
  • courses must include more specific OH content;
  • competencies must be aligned with the theory and practice of OH;
  • a formal regulatory mechanism should be adopted so OH nurses can input feedback into NMC standards for OH education;
  • shared learning with other SCPHNs should no longer be mandatory, and instead shared learning with relevant multi-disciplinary groups and professionals should be required;
  • differences between validated and non-validated SCPHN courses must be addressed, with appropriate consistent standards; and
  • a quality assurance process is needed for OH degree courses.

In the section on proposed future changes, the paper suggests a collaborative approach between the NMC, FOHN and the National School of Occupational Health, including: the development of centres of excellence; OH courses based on advanced practice in nursing; FOHN members supervising newly qualified OH practitioners; and NMC revalidation to incorporate guidance from OH nurses.

The FDG will carry out a survey of the profession in 2016 and the findings will be incorporated into an updated paper before mid-2017.

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