Occupational health professionals have condemned a decision by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) to axe its professional occupational health nursing adviser role.
OH nurse Sharon Horan left the RCN at the end of March and, it is understood, the role is to be restructured to reflect the new third part of the nursing register, meaning that any new adviser will cover school nurses and health visitors as well as occupational health.
OH nurses have reacted with outrage, arguing that it makes no sense to scrap one of the profession’s few expert public advocates just as workplace health moves firmly into the political and workplace spotlight.
A petition on the online OH Jiscmail forum calling on the RCN to reconsider its decision showed the depth of feeling when it received 356 signatures within 24 hours of being circulated.
Helun Ford, an OH nurse in Cardiff, spoke for many when she called the decision “a travesty”. “It is a really devastating blow. We pay our fees and are promised professional support for our speciality. I would not presume to give a school nurse or midwife advice,” she told Occupational Health.
Bristol OH nurse Suzanne Vaughan agreed: “We need a voice that speaks for us because we are such a different specialism to the others. We also need someone to remind us of the basics and who has the specialist knowledge to advise on complex practice issues.”
Others branded the decision as “stupid” and said they were now considering cancelling their membership. Some have sent letters of protest to RCN general secretary Dr Peter Carter.
“What is the point of having a representative body that doesn’t have the specialist in-house knowledge and expertise to represent you?” asked one nurse.
“It’s about the only thing as an OH nurse you get from the RCN – I am not rejoining if this is how we are treated and supported,” agreed another.
Despite the unprecedented response, the RCN is for now keeping tight-lipped.
A spokesperson said: “It is an internal matter that we are not currently commenting on.”