Public health nurse

Public health nurses are qualified and registered nurses or midwives who have then chosen to gain experience or undertake training to specialise in areas such as health protection or sexual health. 

Working life

Their additional training in public health means that public health nurses play a vital role in promoting and protecting the public’s health. This might be by promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing the likelihood of ill-health, supporting people who have long-term illness, or preventing illness through immunisations or screening interventions. They are employed in a variety of settings including the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, local authorities and the NHS.

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Public health nurse roles

The following list doesn't include all of the roles available for public health nurses, but provides examples of the types of roles available.

Sarah Murphy

TB nurse specialist (public health)
It is exciting to work on an innovative project and to see fantastic results so quickly. By offering on-site screening, we’ve greatly increased the number of people who take up the offer of screening.

Health promotion nurse

Health promotion nurses work with groups in the community and organisations (primary healthcare teams, voluntary and statutory organisations) to identify the health needs of the community and the most appropriate ways of intervening to improve their health. They plan their interventions on a firm evidence-base and then work with their clients in a variety of community settings to meet their needs. Such interventions may include, for example:

  • physical activity
  • tackling obesity
  • promoting self-care for people with long-term conditions
  • finding and supporting those most at risk of cardiovascular disease

They also provide information and support to promote and optimise positive health.

The managerial aspects of their role include:

  • maintaining good working relationships with partners, colleagues and partner organisations
  • completing statistical returns and entering client data onto computer systems
  • identifying areas for improving the service
  • responding to complaints

Health promotion nurses also have an educational role, helping to support, mentor and train junior staff, participating in clinical supervision, annual staff appraisal, and auditing to ensure maintenance of standards.

Health protection nurse

Health protection teams are responsible for ensuring that the public are protected from infectious diseases and other non-infectious hazards to health. Nurses working in this field have a crucial role to play in this interesting and varied area. They work with individuals, families and the wider population, which may include taking decisions on behalf of a community or population. The health protection nurse works with a wide range of organisations, disciplines and agencies to undertake disease surveillance, contribute to the management of incidents, outbreaks and control strategies, as well as leading or supporting the implementation of new directives, guidance and policy to protect the public’s health.

The day-to-day role of the health protection nurse may include:

  • providing reactive health protection advice, as part of an acute response team, to health professionals, the public or wider stakeholders, following the notification of communicable diseases or other health threats.
  • undertaking epidemiological investigations and public health risk assessments.
  • working with other stakeholders to prevent or minimise the impact of non-infectious environmental hazards
  • emergency planning, working with local resilience fora, undertaking community risk assessments and supporting the planning for biological, chemical, radioactive, environmental and nuclear threats to the public’s health.
  • public health training, education, and participating in research and audit.

Tuberculosis (TB) nurse

Tuberculosis nurses work in the community or within health protection teams to provide care and support for people being investigated or treated for tuberculosis (TB). They may be involved, with their team, in managing an outbreak. They also visit people at home, ensuring they receive the support that they, as individuals with different needs, require to complete their course of treatment. They provide their clients and other health professionals with information and advice about TB. To help contain the spread of TB, these nurses work to establish who has been in contact with infected clients so they can be traced and offered a check-up and, if necessary, treatment.

Infection control nurse

Infection control nurses establish and maintain effective and efficient systems for the prevention, investigation, control and surveillance of infections in the workplace. Infection control nurses need to provide strong leadership that inspires and motivates others to ensure all infection control policy and procedures are implemented. He or she would normally have the authority, through specialist knowledge, to advise on agreed standards of infection prevention and to control care service delivery to patients, their carers and all hospital staff.

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