Occupational health nurses have vital role

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  • An occupational health nurse plays a strategic role in supporting and influencing a healthcare strategy.
  • The nurse will identify health risks, provide advice, carry out health surveillance and screening and help with absence management.
  • The nurse can be directly employed, supplied by an outsourcing provider, or available via telephone as part of a remote case management model.
  • The cost of providing an OH nurse can vary depending on the requirements of the employer and the nurse’s role. An OH nurse’s salary can range from £19,000 to £28,000, while a screening nurse’s salary can start from £24,000.

Occupational health nurses can play a variety of important roles for employers, says Tynan Barton

Occupational health (OH) nurses can make a critical contribution to an employer’s healthcare strategy, ranging from hands-on, day-to-day help to playing a more strategic role in supporting staff.

A core part of the nurse’s job is to identify business and human health risks, and ensure staff are fit and well enough to perform to the required standard. An OH nurse can also provide lifestyle advice, health screening and health surveillance, which involves looking after employees’ wellbeing, and collecting data on risks and issues.

Tristi Brownett, quality and assurance director at Premier Occupational Health, says a nurse can also be brought in to perform a specific function. “It could be there is a lot of sickness absence, or a specific process that is recognised to cause ill health, and so the nurse will screen for it,” she says.

Safety-critical work

Brownett gives the example of the fire service, which requires its operational staff to have a medical every three years. Premier Occupational Health provides nurses to carry out the medicals and ensure staff remain fit to perform safety-critical work.

OH nurses can also ensure staff are screened for conditions that are related to their job, or are more likely to affect a particular group. Aaron Ross, chief executive at FirstCare, says: “For example, if an employer is sending engineers out on the road who are manhandling boilers, it wants to make sure they are not suffering from back complaints.”

An OH nurse may also be involved in the rehabilitation of injured or absent workers, and helping them to return to work.

Employers have several options when employing an OH nurse. They can appoint an on-site nurse to the internal OH department, they can outsource the role to a provider to supply a nurse to work onsite, or they can use a remote case management system, with a team of qualified OH professionals contactable by telephone.

Kirsty Jagielko, head of product management at Cigna, says remote case management may be the best option for employers that require a nurse to manage sickness absence and help staff back to work. “If that is the primary need, an employer should look at outsourcing and the remote case management model where it can be supported by a team of case managers who are up to speed with the organisation and culture,” she says.

Cost of providing a nurse

The cost of providing an OH nurse will vary according to an employer’s needs and the model it chooses. If it outsources the role or goes for remote management, there can be extra costs on top of salary.

An OH nurse can expect a salary of between £19,000 and £28,000. The salary for a screening nurse can start at £24,000, but for an OH nurse who is also a specialist community practice health nurse, the salary can range from £30,000 to £50,000.

Although the cost of providing an OH nurse can run into thousands, FirstCare’s Ross says a nurse can help employers meet their responsibilities on employee health. “There is a direct cost impact of an unhealthy workforce, and there is an ever-increasing risk of litigation if an employer does not look after its duty of care,” he says.

Providing an OH nurse for staff also helps an organisation’s reputation as a caring employer, says Premier’s Brownett. “If everybody has to go to OH as part of the return-to-work process, there is a feeling of fairness in how things are addressed.”

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