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Blog: A nurse’s role in promoting health and preventing ill health (from the bedside to the bingo hall)

Read the latest blog from Sue West, Senior Nursing Education Adviser

As a nurse you have contact with people every day, and must make every interaction you have count. Each conversation or encounter with someone is a vital opportunity to help them improve their own health and wellbeing.

For some of us, this might mean providing motivational advice about the importance of staying well to someone with alcoholic liver disease. For others, it might mean helping an older person to exercise in a nursing home, or engaging with school children about healthy eating options.

It’s also about role modelling and providing the information, understanding and potential tools for individuals to make choices about their lifestyles.

However we do it, by improving public knowledge about health and empowering people to make positive choices for themselves, nurses can play their part to transform communities.

‘Promoting health and preventing ill health’ is so important that it’s one of the seven ‘platforms’ in our latest future nurse standards, which were published in May 2018. They’re the standards that every nurse must meet in order to join (and remain on) our register. So including this platform makes it clear that public health is every nurse’s responsibility.

The platform details what newly registered nurses need to know in this area. It includes:

  • understanding the principles of health promotion, protection and improvement
  • inequalities in health outcomes
  • importance of early years and childhood experiences on the impact of life choices
  • the determinants of health, illness and wellbeing in a global context. 

The proficiencies also focus on the power of communication and the need to help people make the most of their personal strengths and expertise to help them make informed choices about their care.

When I was at the recent Chief Nursing Officer for Wales 2019 Showcase Conference, I heard about many innovative nurse-led approaches in this area. These included holding health clinics not just in the general practice, but in the local barbers, betting shops and bingo hall. There is lots of great work happening in this area and no shortage of creativity – it’s important we keep sharing this best practice.

At the conference we also heard about the A Healthier Wales 5 year plan, which focuses on encouraging good health and wellbeing throughout life.

As you’d expect for such a key topic, all four countries of the United Kingdom have individual public health strategies with very similar objectives to our ‘future nurse’ standards. These cover:

  • health improvement – enabling people and communities to improve their health and wellbeing by addressing the wider determinants of health
  • health protection – preventing and responding to contagious or infectious diseases and environmental hazards, and promoting resilience to future risks
  • health and care services – maximising the quality of health and care services for the population.

These strategies are very helpful resources for all of us. In Public Health England’s recently launched All Our Health strategy, you’ll find a wealth of evidence-based information about health improvement and illness prevention. They’ve even included tips on having brief conversations, health coaching and motivational interviewing.

These resources have been made even more user friendly with the launch of the new All Our Health e-learning sessions.

Our actions, large or small, can help people, communities and even whole populations to improve their health and wellbeing. Hopefully these resources will help, because wherever we work and in whatever role, we all want to deliver better, safer care.

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