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The hidden value of the public health nurse

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Do we take every opportunity to educate patients about how to use health services? Katrina Sealey appeals to NT readers to do just that

As a newly qualified staff nurse, I found deciding on where to apply for my first role a formidable decision.

I had gained a lot of experience in acute settings and had been exposed to many patients who had ‘avoided going to the GP’ or ‘hoped the lump would go away on its own’.

Whilst these placements were valuable learning experiences, I couldn’t help but wonder how patients’ conditions could be ‘nipped in the bud’ more effectively.

After all, logic dictates that this would save the NHS and the taxpayer money, time and hospital beds.

”I couldn’t help but wonder how patients’ conditions could be ‘nipped in the bud’ more effectively”

This thinking led me down the road of public health and to write this appeal: please, educate your patients. Teach them how to use the NHS, empower them to take responsibility for their care and give them the tools to do it with confidence.

The NHS often comes under fire for not meeting targets and spending too much money. It is important to remember that our reputation is built upon the public’s perception of our services and their experience of media coverage is a huge contributing factor.

Perception could make the public hesitant to interact with the healthcare system, and this is where the role of the public health nurse comes into its own.

We can draw an analogy between accessing healthcare services and getting a new mobile phone. To begin with, we have no idea how it works, we press buttons and hope for the best. Similarly, when a person accesses a service for the first time, they do not necessarily do this effectively. For example, attending A&E with a minor injury.

”To begin with, we have no idea how it works, we press buttons and hope for the best”

Now, either you would get annoyed with your new phone and throw it away, or you would begin to gain some understanding and learn to navigate the things you need, for instance, sending a text or using the camera. Equally, people will choose to avoid services that are difficult to understand, this can sometimes be the case when booking a GP appointment.

After a while, you and your new phone become inseparable, the phone contains your contacts, calendar entries, family photos and much more.

To extend our metaphor, this describes the danger of depending on the NHS.

In practice it can mean accessing services because you are not confident to self-care. In short, if you don’t access services properly, they will not work as intended, costing the NHS and the taxpayer in the long run.

”In short, if you don’t access services properly, they will not work as intended”

This places a responsibility on the general public to understand their local care provision, and in turn places a responsibility on clinical professionals to promote health education to everyone.

Knowing when to go to your GP or just pop to the pharmacy requires education, decision-making skills and confidence, just like your phone needs a good instruction manual.

It is therefore no small task to achieve this within a community.

Public health nurses fight a daily battle to try to educate the public about their health, encourage them to make healthy life choices and empower them to self-care effectively. However, the support of the wider healthcare sector is a vital component in achieving change. We need to support patients to help themselves.

What do you do in your area to promote patient education? How do you help patients understand their health?


Katrina Sealey BSc (Hons) – School Staff Nurse, CSH Surrey


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Readers' comments (1)

  • This seems a narrow and naive perspective on public health! It's more than knowing when to bother the doctor. Whatever happened to consideration of our obesogenic environment where poor quality fast food and childhood obesity seem to considered as normal? What about the mental health consequences of stress, the effect on families living in poor housing, traffic pollution and respiratory disease, alcohol consumption by young people, etc? What about violence in the home and bullying in schools and workplaces?

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