The majority of healthcare professionals believe public health is an important part of their job, but only around a fifth currently measure the impact of their work in the area, according to two national organisations that have developed a new tool for the purpose.
A lack of time, capacity and training were cited by staff as the most common reasons for failing to record the effect of their work, said the report by arms-length body Public Health England and charity the Royal Society for Public Health.
“This resource will provide healthcare professionals with simple, quick and effective guidelines”
A survey of 805 professionals found 62% believed their public health work contributed to mental wellbeing, 57% that it helped improve people’s physical activity and 48% that it helped to tackle obesity, among a number of other issues.
But, while 70% said protecting the public’s health was an important part of their nursing profession’s work, many felt they were not currently contributing in certain areas.
More than a quarter (29%) believed they could contribute to tackling obesity, 27% could assist with NHS health checks, 24% wanted to help increase people’s independence and 22% felt they could help with dementia.
Meanwhile, among the 19% of healthcare professionals who said they measured their work, the tools they used were “generally highly specialised and intervention specific” according to the report, published today and titled Everyday Interactions.
“It was assessed that many of the tools were, therefore, unlikely to be acceptable in all practice,” it said.
“Nurses and midwives are developing their practice and services that promote and protect health and wellbeing”
Further research found few validated methods for public health impact analysis could be used by healthcare professionals due to lack of time – and also often required training.
In light of the findings, public health experts are urging nurses and other practitioners to use a new toolkit they have developed.
This would help to demonstrate the value of work of commissioners, provide evidence to improve practice, and raise awareness with the public about the role of the range of healthcare professions involved in prevention, they said.
Developed by PHE and the RSPH, the new toolkit provides “a quick, straightforward and easy way” for nurses and other staff to measure their public health impact in “a uniform and comparable way”.
It is based on the need to “make every contact count” and includes a step-by-step guide to recording interventions for each of 10 public health priorities. These are adult obesity, alcohol, child oral health, dementia, healthy beginnings, falls, mental wellbeing, physical activity, sexual and reproductive health and HIV, and smoking and tobacco.
Professor Viv Bennett
Shirley Cramer, chief executive of RSPH, said the healthcare workforce was already having a positive impact on the public’s health through everyday interactions.
“Our hope is that this resource will provide healthcare professionals with simple, quick and effective guidelines for recording and measuring the impact of their activities on the public’s health,” she said.
“This will be invaluable in better understanding and demonstrating to commissioners and others the huge potential which exists to improve and protect the public’s health through brief interventions, such as signposting,” she said.
Viv Bennett, PHE’s chief nurse, said: “All health and care professionals play a vital role in encouraging and supporting people to care for their own health and wellbeing.
“Nurses and midwives are developing their practice and services that promote and protect health and wellbeing,” she said. ”This toolkit will enable them to record and measure the public health impact of care provided to individuals’ families and communities.”
“We are seeing cuts to important public health services such as smoking cessation services”
However, the Royal College of Midwives, said the ability of midwives to improve public health was undermined by the lack of staff.
“England is 3,500 midwives short of the numbers needed and we are seeing cuts to important public health services such as smoking cessation services. Midwives are effectively trying to improve public health but with one hand tied behind their back,” said RCM director of midwifery Louise Silverton.
“This report is welcome and measuring their impact is great but too often midwives are not having the impact they could be. This is a disappointment, because midwives want to do this, but the system too often makes this very difficult,” she added.