Proposed new education standards for specialist community public health nursing (SCPHN) and specialist practice qualifications (SPQs) have received significant support from occupational health nurses (OHNs), with many agreeing they emphasise the knowledge and skills OHNs need to carry out their roles effectively.
The post-registration standards apply to the SCPHN part of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register. They outline the knowledge, skills and proficiencies needed for safe and effective practice, as well as what the NMC expects from nursing education and training.
The NMC last year conducted a 16-week consultation which sought views on the proposed new standards, which were grouped under six “spheres of influence”.
The spheres of influence were:
- Autonomous specialist community public health nursing practice
- Transforming specialist community public health nursing practice: evidence, research, evaluation and translation
- Promoting human rights and tackling inequalities: assessment, surveillance and intervention
- Population health: enabling, supporting and improving health outcomes of people across the life course
- Advancing public health services and promoting healthy places, environments and cultures
- Leading and collaborating: from investment to action and dissemination.
More information on what each of the proposed spheres means for OH nurses are outlined here.
The consultation findings report revealed that more than three-quarters of respondents (79%) agreed that the core and field-specific standards for everyone on the SCPHN register met the proficiency requirements for OHNs.
On the whole, OHNs felt the standards were far more applicable than the current SCPHN proficiencies, a user-testing report found.
“These standards are much clearer than the previous – it will help people understand what occupational health is. They will allow us to help others understand what we do,” one OHN said.
The NMC’s SCPHN review
The consultation received more than 2,000 responses and a quarter of respondents chose to answer questions about OH nursing.
Of those, 82% agreed that the draft standards emphasised the knowledge and skills OHNs need to prioritise health and safety in the workplace, and 82% felt they would enable OHNs to practice with a high degree of autonomy.
The consultation also found that:
- 74% either agreed or strongly agreed that the standards outlined the right level of business and commercial acumen, reporting knowledge and skills that OHNs require
- 80% agreed or strongly agreed that they emphasised the knowledge, skills and attributes required for OHNs to strategically influence and lead change
- 77% agreed or strongly agreed that they would promote, support and deliver improved health and wellbeing to workers’, organisations’ and businesses’ families, communities and populations
- 76% agreed or strongly agreed that they articulated the necessary knowledge and skills for OHNs to promote, support and deliver improved health and wellbeing
- 80% agreed or strongly agreed they reflected the breadth and depth of the evidence-base needed for OHN practice.
Many respondents liked the fact that the standards referenced OH’s role beyond the workplace, for example the influence it can have on dietary choices and alcohol consumption.
One OHN highlighted how they had already used the draft standards proficiencies to promote more inclusive behaviour in the workplace: “We quoted these new draft standards in meetings about adjusting practice to accommodate employees with long Covid and it was good that there is powerful language around health inequalities. We have changed phased return practice from four weeks to 12 weeks based on the Covid recovery time and the draft standards helped us to do so.”
Those who disagreed that the standards were appropriate said they would like to see more emphasis on practical and clinical aspects of the role of an OHN, including health surveillance, audiometry, spirometry, mental health and case management.
The NMC has said it would now work with stakeholders across health and social care to consider how it can refine the standards to ensure they “form the foundations of excellent education and practice”.
The NMC’s executive director of professional practice, Professor Geraldine Walters, said: “We’re pleased that the responses are generally positive with most people supporting the ambition and intention of these future standards. We also received lots of wider useful feedback, and it will take a few months to give the responses the consideration and scrutiny they deserve. We’ll refine the standards and then take them to a public Council meeting for approval.”