Health visitor professional education and post-qualification clinical supervision: how well does it equip practitioners for dealing with ethical tensions associated with promoting the public health agenda to individual clients?

Julie C Greenway, Vikki A Entwistle, Ruud Termeulen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Aim To explore how well professional education and post-qualification clinical supervision support equips health visitors to deal with ethical tensions associated with implementing the public health agenda while also being responsive to individual clients. BACKGROUND: Current health policy in England gives health visitors a key role in implementing the government's public health agenda. Health visitors are also required by their Professional Code to respond to the health-related concerns and preferences of their individual clients. This generates a number of public health-related ethical tensions. METHODS: Exploratory cross-sectional qualitative (interpretive) study using 29 semi-structured individual interviews with health visitors, practice teachers and university lecturers exploring how well health visitors' professional education and post-qualification clinical supervision support equips them for dealing with these ethical tensions and whether they thought further ethics education was needed. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically using a Framework approach. Findings Health visitors' professional education did not always equip them to deal with ethical tensions, which arose from delivering public health interventions to their clients. However, the majority of participants thought that ethics could not be taught in a way that would equip health visitors for every situation and that ongoing post-qualification clinical supervision support was also needed, particularly in the first year after qualifying. The amount of post-qualification support available to practising health visitors was variable with some health visitors unable to access such support due to their working circumstances and pressures on staff time. Literature on the ethical tensions associated with evidence-based practice; public health ethics and ethics of care might be useful for health visitors in gaining greater understanding of the ethical tensions they face. This could be introduced as part of health visitors' professional education or on post-qualification study days.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-102
Number of pages13
JournalPrimary health care research & development
Issue number1
Early online date12 Jul 2012
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013



  • clinical supervision
  • community health nursing
  • ethics
  • nursing education
  • public health

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