The full potential of the nursing workforce must be harnessed if gaps in health inequalities are to be closed, according to the Royal College of Nursing.
Nursing expertise and experience must be “fully recognised”, “appropriately funded”, “supported and utilised”, the college said in a report launched on Friday at a conference on public health.
It said “in every context and at every level” nursing staff carry out public health activities, ranging from health visitors supporting early years development to specialist nurses providing specific interventions.
But the report said a step change was now needed. “Given the significant public health challenges that prevail in the UK, there is now a need to make that contribution more visible and increase the profile of all nurses in tackling the root causes of ill health,” it said.
“There is much criticism that the NHS offers a ‘sickness service’ rather than a health service. The RCN believes nurses have a key role to play in ‘going upstream’ and initiating care to prevent people becoming ill in the first place,” the report added.
It highlighted innovative approaches to public health already adopted by nurses that it called on NHS planners to take note of when commissioning services. But it noted these were only a “fraction of the potential waiting to be harnessed” (news, page 9, 17 January).
The report said: “Every interaction in every location should be seen as an opportunity to promote health and prevent illness.”
The guidance comes on the back of recommendations published by NHS Future Forum in January calling for clinicians to broach health and wellbeing issues with patients at every opportunity, so that they “make every contact count”.