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Ensuring Competence and Quality Care: Why SCPHN OH Nurses need to revalidate to the New Standards

By Neil Loach, Senior Lecturer, University of Derby

Published 13 May 2024

The Standards for Specialist Community Public Health Nurses (SCPHN) (2022) for Occupational Health (OH) represent a renewed and comprehensive framework that outlines the core competencies and professional behaviours expected of nurse practitioners in a unique and specialised field. These standards, developed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), provide guidance for Occupational Health Nurses (OHNs) to deliver high-quality leadership and care, to promote health and wellbeing in the workplace.

These new standards build upon the foundation of previous iterations while incorporating updates to reflect the evolving landscape of OH practice. They emphasise the importance of evidence-based practice, ethical decision-making, and holistic approaches to address the diverse health needs of employees across various industries.

The comprehensive competencies can be found in the standards. All standards are required to be met in practice to be admitted to the register and confirmed by a Practice Assessor and Academic Assessor. Key components of the SCPHN (2022) standards for OHNs include:-

Health Promotion and Prevention:

  • The promotion of health and well-being in the workplace through education, advocacy, and the implementation of preventive measures. This involves collaborating with employers and employees to identify health risks, develop tailored interventions, and foster a culture of health and safety.

Risk Assessment and Management:

  • Conducting comprehensive risk assessments, sometimes in collaboration with subject matter experts, to identify occupational hazards and mitigate potential health risks. They utilise evidence-based tools and methodologies to assess workplace environments, evaluate health outcomes, and implement strategies to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses.

Occupational Health Surveillance:

  • Monitoring and evaluating the health status of employees, identifying trends and patterns, and implementing surveillance systems to detect emerging health issues. They collaborate with interdisciplinary teams to collect and analyse data, assess health needs, and develop targeted interventions to address OH concerns.

Collaboration and Advocacy:

  • Collaborate with employers, employees, regulatory agencies, and other stakeholders to promote a collaborative approach to occupational health. OHNs advocate for policies and practices that protect the health and well-being of workers, promote social justice, and address disparities in OH outcomes.

Professional Development and Leadership:

  • Engage in continuous professional development to enhance their knowledge, skills, and competencies in OH nursing practice. They demonstrate leadership qualities, contribute to the advancement of the profession, and serve as advocates for excellence in occupational health care and delivery of the public health agenda.

Overall, the new SCPHN standards for OHNs underscore the importance of maintaining high standards of competence, professionalism, and ethical practice. By adhering to these standards, OHNs can contribute to creating healthier and safer work environments, improving employee well-being, and promoting public health.

Updating skills and competencies to the new standards is essential for ensuring that OHNs are equipped to meet the evolving needs of public health practice. The new standards provide a framework to deliver high-quality care and promote health and well-being within communities. Aligning to these standards involves assessing current capabilities, identifying areas for development, and engaging in continuous professional development, including, but not limited to:

  1. Assessment and Health Needs Identification:

  • Strong assessment skills to identify the health needs of individuals, families, and communities.
  • Competencies such as conducting comprehensive health assessments, utilising appropriate screening tools, and analysing data to identify health disparities and priorities.
  • Alignment includes proficiency in assessing the health needs of diverse populations and employing culturally competent approaches to care delivery. Culturally competent care involves taking the individuals beliefs, views, and behaviours into account. This could be as simple as ensuring that religious or spiritual practice is considered during the period of Ramadan for a worker referred for OH advice.
  1. Health Promotion and Education:

  • Skills in developing and implementing health promotion programs and educational initiatives to empower individuals and communities to improve their health outcomes.
  • Competencies include designing evidence-based interventions, delivering health education sessions, and facilitating behaviour change.
  • Alignment with training in health promotion strategies, communication techniques, and health literacy to engage with diverse audiences. Diverse strategies could include those workers who may use different communication techniques or have differing learning needs by simply providing information in different formats.
  1. Partnership Working and Collaboration:

  • The ability to work collaboratively with multidisciplinary teams, community organisations, and stakeholders to address public health challenges.
  • Competencies include building partnerships, engaging stakeholders, and advocating for the needs of communities.
  • Alignment involves fostering teamwork, communication skills, and leadership abilities to facilitate effective collaboration and achieve shared goals. This could be in partnership with the work or another health care or safety professional.
  1. Policy Development and Advocacy:

  • Knowledge of public health policies, legislation, and regulations that impact health outcomes and influence health equity.
  • Competencies include analysing policy documents, advocating for policy change, and participating in policy development processes.
  • Alignment involves providing nurses with opportunities to engage in policy discussions, develop advocacy skills, and advocate for policies that promote health and social justice. Social Justice is about providing support and policies to transform lives.  Incentivising and supporting positive behaviours within a drug and alcohol policy would be a good example of this.
  1. Evaluation and Quality Improvement:

  • Demonstrate proficiency in evaluating the effectiveness of public health interventions, programs, and policies.
  • Competencies include collecting and analysing data, assessing outcomes, and implementing quality improvement initiatives.
  • Alignment involves incorporating principles of evaluation and quality improvement into practice, fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement with research as an integral driver of best practice. Ensuring that policies are regularly updated with research that is valid and considers the Issues of quality, accuracy, relevance, bias, reputation, and credibility before adoption into a new policy is essential.

Renewing skills and competencies requires a strategic approach to professional development and training. By assessing current capabilities, identifying areas for growth, and providing opportunities for skill enhancement, nurses can ensure that they meet the requirements of the new SCPHN practice and contribute effectively to population health outcomes.

The significance of revalidation for OHNs in line with the new standards should not be underestimated.

For OHNs revalidation is particularly crucial due to the dynamic nature of their role. They must stay abreast of changing legislation, emerging occupational hazards, and advancements in healthcare to effectively promote a safe and healthy work environment. Revalidation ensures that these nurses maintain the competencies required to address the diverse needs of employees, employers, and other stakeholders across various industries.

The SCPHN standards serve as a benchmark for specialist community public health nursing practice, outlining the core competencies and professional behaviours expected of practitioners (Nursing and Midwifery Council, 2022). Revalidation complements these standards by providing a mechanism for OHNs to demonstrate their adherence to SCPHN OH principles and evidence their existing or updated proficiency in key areas such as health promotion, disease prevention, leadership, emerging technologies, risk assessment and the, now too often forgotten, principles of the public health agenda. Through the revalidation process, OHN’s need to reflect on how they have met the standards in their practice and provide examples of their work that align with these criteria. This ensures that their professional development activities are relevant to their role as specialist practitioners in OH and contribute to the achievement of new SCPHN outcomes.

Revalidation promotes professional accountability and ethical practice by requiring OHN to uphold the NMC’s (2018b) “The Code” and other relevant professional standards. The revalidation process prompts reflection on adherence to ethical guidelines, consideration of ethical dilemmas encountered in practice, and demonstration of how challenges are addressed while upholding professional standards. This fosters a culture of accountability, transparency, and ethical decision-making , enhancing public trust and confidence in OH practice. Central to revalidation is evidence-based practice, i.e. use of the best available evidence, and research to inform decision-making and enhance the quality of care. OHNs must engage in reflective practice, critically appraise research findings, and apply evidence-based interventions to optimise health outcomes in the workplace. By integrating this into the revalidation process, OHNs should evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions, identify areas for improvement, and implement changes to enhance the quality of care delivered. This cyclical process of reflection, evaluation, and improvement aligns with the principles of continuous professional development and ensures that OHNs remain at the forefront of evidence-based practice.

There are challenges and future directions to consider. While revalidation offers benefits for OHNs, it is not without challenges, especially for those unfamiliar with the requirements of the new standards Practitioners may find the revalidation requirements time-consuming or resource-intensive, particularly those working in busy clinical settings or remote locations. It may be challenging for those that are employed purely in case management when the focus of their role does not encompass all the areas of proficiency.

Consequently, there is a need to integrate revalidation into the professional development pathways for OHNs and explore innovative approaches to facilitate the process. Leveraging technology, peer support networks, and collaborative learning platforms can enhance engagement and participation in revalidation activities, ensuring that everyone can demonstrate their competence and commitment to high-quality care. Forming a Community of Practice (CoP) within a locality would help to facilitate the barriers to successful adaption of the new skills and competencies that are required.

In conclusion

Revalidation plays a critical role in maintaining the competence, professionalism, and quality of care delivered by OHNs in line with the 2022 NMC SCPHN standards. By engaging in reflective practice, evidence-based learning, and ethical decision-making, nurses can demonstrate their ongoing commitment to professional development and uphold the trust and confidence of the public. Moving forward, it is essential to address the challenges associated with revalidation and continue to support nurses in meeting the evolving needs of occupational health practice.

References

Nursing and Midwifery Council. (2022). Standards of proficiency for specialist community public health nurses. Available at: https://www.nmc.org.uk/standards/standards-for-post-registration/standards-of-proficiency-for-specialist-community-public-health-nurses2/  (Accessed: 30 April 2024)

Nursing and Midwifery Council. (2018a). Revalidation. Available at: https://www.nmc.org.uk/revalidation/ (Accessed: 30 April 2024)

Nursing & Midwifery Council. (2018b). The Code. Available at: https://www.nmc.org.uk/standards/code/ (Accessed: 30 April 2024)

Neil Loach, FHEA, FRSPH Senior Lecturer, University of Derby

 

Neil Loach | Linkedin

Neil is the Immediate Past President of iOH. He was on the NMC working group for the new SCPHN Standards. He is the Pathway Lead for Occupational Health at the University of Derby on the SCPHN OH Programme. He is an experienced lecturer across both pre and post registration nursing disciplines. He is the current Programme Leader for the PG Cert in Leading Interprofessional Practice Education Programme. This is an online course for Practice Educators to become skilled and proficient in leading all aspects of practice education, including, learning, teaching, assessment, and building & leading quality driven curricula fit for an interprofessional audience. There is also an apprenticeship version of this for any interested parties.

 

OH Today Volume 31 Issue 2 2023
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