There needs to be a much clearer strategy put in place to increase the number of nurses considering a career in occupational health, a leading OH educator has argued.
Challenges facing educators in providing programmes that turn out OH practitioners who are competent to practice in a variety of workplaces and to lead on Government health agendas should also be addressed.
In a report prepared for the Council for Work and Health, Anne Harriss, course director for OH programmes at London South Bank University, says that there is a growing imperative for OH nurses to have, or be given, the skills needed to work in a more varied, multidisciplinary, collaborative working environment. She also says that they need to become key cogs within the Government’s new public health agenda, including its focus on encouraging workers with long-term health issues and disabilities back into the workplace.
The report, The challenge of preparing nurses practising in the workplace setting competent to promote, improve and maintain the health of the working-age population, makes recommendations such as:
- lobbying the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to include more specific learning outcomes and specific skills clusters within its standards for specialist community public health nursing programmes;
- lobbying the chief nursing officer of the Department of Health to ensure careers within OH nursing are “highlighted and appropriately reflected within documents or models associated with the Department of Health strategy of modernising nursing careers”;
- encourage course curricula to include outcomes that promote both physical and mental health, provide the knowledge and skills required for case management including the development of effective return-to-work recovery programmes and support for those with disabilities;
- encourage more shared learning with a range of practitioners studying programmes in health or management, with, for example, more focus on areas such as rehabilitation, mental health, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, plus general and human resource management;
- restricting financial support for OH nursing courses to a limited list of “preferred” higher-education institutions to ensure such institutions “are able to maintain a critical mass of OH nursing student numbers”;
- increasing the number of trainee posts within NHS OH services and providing more bursaries for students who are gaining unpaid practice experience in OH; and
- providing enhanced financial remuneration for the additional responsibility involved in supervising trainees, which may also result in more OH nurses within the NHS wishing to become practice teachers.
“There are interesting times ahead for OH nursing and challenges for OH educators. It may now be time to build on current curricula and the council is urged to lobby the NMC to review their standards in relation to the integration of specific OH-focused skills clusters,” said Harriss.