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Viv Bennett: 'All nurses need to know how to give health improvement advice'


We will be working to commission training for students and nurses to strengthen health protection knowledge and skills, says Viv Bennett

Earlier this year I hosted the first Department of Health/Public Health England conference, “Improving the public’s health - the key roles of nurses and midwives”. More than 300 nurses and midwives from all branches of the professions shared knowledge and thoughts on how personalised care and population health are professional responsibilities.

In September, PHE held the first annual conference of over 1,000 public health specialists and practitioners. The importance of nursing in this area formed part of the PHE chief executive’s opening address and the conference demonstrated the roles of nurses and midwives in population health. A session on nursing and midwifery drew a multidisciplinary audience and showcased sexual health nursing, health protection nursing in tuberculosis, the Royal College of Nursing’s role in public health and that of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in developing public health guidance.

‘Nurses could play significant roles in the development of health-promoting hospitals’

It was also a chance to share the model for public health nursing and midwifery in England and to gather views. A session on “healthcare public health” set out developments on how NHS organisations’ local data can be used in all kinds of ways to benefit their populations. Nurses could play significant roles in the development of “health-promoting hospitals”.

Nurses and midwives at these events and at many inspiring local visits tell me that to develop skills and build on professional motivation to engage with public health, a clear national framework and support for local development are needed. PHE and the DH are working together under the leadership of senior nurses to build on this to clarify, support and strengthen the “personalised care and population health” contribution and harness local enthusiasm for this work.

We will be working with Health Education England and local education and training boards to commission training for students and nurses to strengthen health improvement and health protection knowledge and skills (strongly requested by students) and to develop CPD. Professionals have asked us how best they can deliver health improvement advice. We need to make learning opportunities available in Making Every Contact Count, motivational/promotional interviewing, strength-based approaches and behaviour change models, and to develop more interactive information, learning and sharing portals.

We will continue to enhance the public health nursing and midwifery model for England and work with NICE to boost the evidence base for practice. Part of the work is to improve the use of data to inform and develop practice and to demonstrate effectiveness; we will be working with partners, including NHS England and local authorities, to use this to improve commissioning in respect of the public health aspects of nurses’ and midwives’ roles. We are collecting and sharing case studies and best practice examples as a resource and to link theory and practice.

The impact of the professions’ work must be visible and recognised so it can be drawn on in our drive to improve health outcomes. We are using a range of approaches, including developing champions/ambassadors, and working through the national nursing and midwifery strategy, Compassion in Practice.

We are promoting our work through social media and building on our 300 conference nurses by developing networks with wide reach across the professions. Join us on Twitter @PHE_uk and our networks to make a difference to the public’s health.

● Information from the conferences and our work can be found at

Viv Bennett is director of nursing at the Department of Health and Public Health England


Readers' comments (6)

  • Is this guff instead of or in addition to the 6 silly "C's"

    Stupid woman !

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  • It would appear that this individual has been soaking her head in rum again. Still got nothing to say about staffing levels and skill/mix ratios, Viv? Thought not. Just keep your head in a nodding motion when you speak to the government bods and keep shovelling the startlingly obvious as a new concept ('All nurses need to know how to give health improvement advice' ....... yeah, WE KNOW and most of us are quite good at it). You'll get your visit to Buckingham Palace. It's in the bag.

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  • Can't help but agree with above comments. The author does have good intentions but unfortunately does not live in the real world.

    We are struggling to provide a very basic service from what ever discipline we are working in; getting through the day hopefully without having too many snide comments from patients (and their relatives) about how 'uncaring' we are all are and basically leaving whatever shift we are doing before collapsing through hunger or dehydration due to lack of breaks.

    As a senior autonomous practitioner of many years, I would love to be able to give a "strength based approach" to my "motivational interviewing" sharing my "portal" of "interactive information."

    Unfortunately the 5mins or less I get with each patient (used to be 10-15 mins before this government wielded the big axe) requires a more basic and down to earth approach.

    Most people who use my services want to see a doctor quickly after doing their own investigations on the internet or through the Daily Mail and then complain about the amount of foreigners who are impeding their access to proper care (or complain that "nurses aren't what they used to be". )

    Many just want quick fixes at a convenient time and take little notice of the tiny amount of health advice I am able to give in the time allotted.

    Oh, and I thought all hospitals were supposed to be "health promoting?" Or do they just not have enough money to send someone to magic land to become "champions" and "ambassadors?"

    Most nurses I know are trying valiantly to be "champions" and "ambassadors" to their patients anyway.

    Maybe less money should be spent on this condescending gobbledegook claptrap and more money should be spent on patient care? That's what most nurses want and its certainly what the patients need.

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  • I don't think nurses or anyone else has the right to tell anyone what they should or should not be doing. Believe it or not, patients aren't thick: your average IVDU knows that what he is doing is harming himself. Your average overweight patient knows the risks of being overweight etc. bearing in mind that nurses and others working in healthcare are often some of the most unhealthy individuals about - who are we to preach?

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  • Viv Bennett is way behind the times and, I agree with other posts that this article is saying nothing new. Health improvement is an intrinsic part of a nurse's job. Always has been.

    Anonymous | 18-Oct-2013 11:32 am

    Health improvement advice isn't about telling, ' anyone what they should or should not be doing'.

    Unfortunately, there is a lot of ignorance amongst some nurses about just what advice is and how it should be given. Certainly, 'preaching' is not any part of it. Denying patients information and options is every bit as damaging as preaching at someone.

    Whilst many patients aren't thick, believe it or not, some are. But, even that isn't the point. Regardless of their intellectual ability, patients have the right to expect accurate information to support them in making the best choices (or not) for their health. Withholding that information deprives them of that choice.

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  • Public health used to be health visitors and school nurses and healthy living type people in councils running smoking cessation campaigns and services like substance misuse. Now they've all moved into local authorities, Public Health England took on all the expensive medical also rans and the academic epidemiology types and boffins who write resilience plans in the event of a nuclear war that no one reads..... And people like Viv. It would be far more useful for her to address nursing issues in her own speciality (she's probably not been near a ward for decades) rather than this sort of flimsy PR puff piece.

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