More than 80% of occupational health nurses in the UK do not feel represented by a professional body in their specialty and most do not feel professionally supported, according to a new survey.
The research, believed to be the largest study of occupation health nurses ever carried out in the UK, assessed the views of 1,429 respondents to a nationwide survey.
“The results of this survey underline the need to establish a national representative body”
It was conducted jointly by the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing (FOHN) Development Group and The At Work Partnership, an independent occupational health research and publishing group.
The FOHN Development Group was set up in 2015 to explore the feasibility of developing a national professional body for occupational health nurses.
It said the survey was intended to assess the current state of occupational health nursing and the “appetite” for creating a new Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing to represent it.
The survey revealed that an estimated 4,950 nurses were currently working in occupational health in the UK.
Around two-thirds, 3,330, were on the Specialist Community Public Health Nursing – Occupational Health section of the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s register.
However, just 17% of occupational health nurses reported that they currently felt “represented” by an occupational health body and only 44% said they felt “professionally supported” at work.
“The nature of our practice has often been misunderstood by professional and regulatory bodies alike”
Most of the survey participants did not belong to a dedicated occupational health body or association, though the vast majority were members of the Royal College of Nursing.
However, those behind the survey noted that the RCN did not currently have a dedicated section for the specialty, as its Society of Occupational Health Nursing was wound up in 2009.
Meanwhile, 87% of survey participants thought a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing would benefit the future of their particular profession, with 74% saying they would join it if it were created.
According to the survey respondents, the proposed faculty could give “a voice” to the profession, raise its profile and provide much needed professional support, guidance and resources.
Key priorities for a future faculty should be representing occupational health nursing to stakeholder groups and setting standards in education and professional practice, the survey indicated.
Jo Berriman, chair of the faculty’s development group, said: “The results of this survey underline the need to establish a national representative body for occupational health nurses to take this important profession forward in helping to improve the health of the working population.
“The landscape of work is rapidly changing, employers are seeking alternative health at work services and there is an increasing shortage of new occupational health nursing talent coming through to replace those who are now approaching retirement,” she said.
“The nature of our practice has often been misunderstood by professional and regulatory bodies alike,” she said. “Occupational health professionals need representation by an organisation that truly understands the work we do and the challenges we face.
Ms Berriman added that the development group would be meeting with other stakeholders in December, in order to decide its next move.
“Our inclination is to set up the Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing as a small charitable organisation, select trustees, review the present vision, mission and strategy and develop a development plan accordingly. We will be looking for financial and non-financially based support to do this,” she said.
An Association of Occupational Health Nurse Practitioners already exists. However, it told Nursing Times that it backed the move to create a faculty, which it said would complement its work.
Occupational health nurses need ‘better representation’
A spokeswoman for the association said it “fully supports” the creation of a Faculty of Occupational Health Nursing and that “the two organisations are complimentary”.
She said the faculty would focus on setting the standards and educational requirements required to “enhance competency and credibility” of occupational health nursing practice, as well as promoting research and acting as the specialty’s voice “at local, national and International levels”.
“The AOHNP is there to be a group of occupational health nurses and other health professionals who are interested in the practice of occupational health nursing, supporting and influencing the learning and development of its practice through events and social media support, and providing a network of professional expertise for its members,” she added.
The online survey was conducted in April and May this year. The full findings are published in the journal Occupational Health [at Work].