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'Every nurse' has role in boosting public's health, says nursing leader


All nurses will be supported in making “every contact count” to help improve the overall health and wellbeing of their patients, according to England’s top public health nurse.

A set of guidance specifically aimed at helping nurses promote public health will be launched in June, Professor Viv Bennett has told Nursing Times.

Professor Bennett is director of nursing at the DH and also director of nursing for the newly-created body Public Health England, which was officially launched on 1 April.

It is one of the new organisations created under the government’s health reforms and has responsibility for protecting and improving the nation’s health and wellbeing, and reducing inequalities. It employs around 300 nurses who are specialists in public health.

Speaking to Nursing Times after the launch, Professor Bennett said Public Health England would be raising awareness of the public health work already undertaken by some district and practice nurses, as well as public health specialists like school nurses and health visitors.

She said: “A lot of nurses feel at the moment that their role in actually increasing health – particularly at community and population levels – is just completely invisible. Raising the profile around that is certainly something that we will be looking to do.”

However, she said Public Health England would be supporting the growth of the role of all nurses in improving the public’s health.

“Every nurse and midwife has a responsibility to make every contact count for health and wellbeing – and so providing support, information, education around that is really important,” she said.

“We’re doing a lot of work around the evidence base for public health nursing – doing what works – and we’ll be launching a range of work around that at a conference in June,” she told Nursing Times.

This will involve developing “nurse accessible” guidelines from 41 separate pieces of guidance on public health invention published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.  

She said she had found the profession’s response to the creation of Public Health England had so far been “really, really positive”.   

“Nurses are under tremendous pressure – we know that – but a good many nurses in acute settings really wanted to know more about when and how to talk to people about improving their health for the longer term, as well as the problem in front of them.

“People are worried whether they have time and the skills and knowledge to do that, which I completely understand, but it’s part of Public Health England’s responsibility to make sure the information to do this is available.”


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Readers' comments (13)

  • ...and it only takes a matter of a few seconds to advise, not minutes out of an already hectic day. MECC allows staff (all staff, not just nurses) to make a credible difference to the ongoing health of the public. Don't forget that our staff, colleagues and friends are 'the public' too.

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  • Say what you like Bennett. You and your mate Cummings, have no credibility with the nursing profession in this country. Now how about dealing with some of the real issues that real nurses deal with on a day to day basis? No? Thought not.

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  • We can lead a horse to water...
    Good advice is always welcome, and can be given concisely, timely and quickly, though some people might still feel lectured at. It doesn't mean we stop trying and hope more will listen. Maybe the consequences of not listening + acting are not clear enough and a feeling there's a safety net by the state would provide.

    There needs to be a societal change that everyone should take responsibility to protect and improve their own health and wellbeing, and to encourage others around them. We need to improve our general fitness both physically and mentally, but it doesn't have to cost much and there is no quick fix. Also most don't need to be at professional sports level or need a team of coaches + psychologists around them.
    While it's mentioned that the population is living longer, it would be great to see us all having better qualities and more productive lives. Not working ourselves to the bone is a good start. Work to live, not live to work.

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  • Sorry to be a dissenting voice, but I don't think we need a committee, or quango or cabal to tell nurses what to do regarding the promotion of public health. This should be what nurses do as a default position without a handful of "talking heads" being paid a fortune to tell them what to do.

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  • What a busy lady you are Prof, 2 jobs at top band! You must work 100 hours a week just on paperwork ( and paper tigers) never mind all that prep you must do to remain on the register.
    You would think that with all these nurses being given their MARS that one of them could job share with you, ease the burden of going to those endless meetings with free refreshments and those globe trotting trips to see 'how they nurse in...*'

    * Insert name of sunny country where they speak English, you can drink the water, and the waiters don't bring over food covered in flies

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  • Research evidences that patient behaviour is most receptive post an episode of illness or injury. Nurses play a lead role in being able to influence personal choices which support better patient outcomes for the duration of the patients life.

    In the South West we have an e-learning platform (Learning for health staying healthy section) to support all NHS staff to promote public health messaging as part of their role. This has fromalised what experienced practitioners will often do without being conscious of it but which needs to be systematically supported. As a trained nurse i provide a lot of public health messaging to my friends, family and work colleagues, and i also try to mirror that myself. i am all for trying to improve the health of the nation.

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  • redpaddys12 | 6-Apr-2013 10:45 pm

    Are figureheads under any obligation to work?

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  • As a nurse I try to advise my patients about the benefits of leading a healthier lifestyle. More often than not, it's ignored. You can see the shutters coming down, even before you've finished speaking. I've been passing health advice over for 20 years. I've always tried, regardless of whether I think it's a wasted effort. And it often is, but I think it's valuable information none the less.

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  • ALL health and social care professionals should already be promoting health and well-being and not JUST nurses.

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  • Ms Bennit

    Ever tried to tell the Mother of the toddler who has just swallowed mummy's pills that the pills should always be placed beyond the reach of children. Or maybe you educate the drunks and other human flotsam which infest A&E at the weekends----

    Until you come and work with me , demonstrating your ability to provide HE advise without being sworn at or threatened with violence I will have to regard your plea to the profession to lack credibility.

    How about focusing on nurse/patient ratios, skill mix issues and other matters of importance ? Guess you just push these issues into the "too hard" bin and continue with your deluded belief that the 6C's will solve all the problems.

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