The March 2012 target for all NHS occupational health departments to have become accredited under the Faculty of Occupational Medicine's Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS) programme is unlikely to be met, NHS Plus director John Harrison has warned.
During an interview with Occupational Health magazine, Harrison conceded that he expected only 50 to 60 units to be fully accredited by March 2012, which would itself be "a huge achievement".
Nevertheless, more than 100 of the 164 current NHS Plus units already had action plans in place, he added.
Harrison also conceded that OH academia has been "decimated" in recent years with the decline in the number of university departments meaning that "if we lose one of the few left, we will be in a very serious situation". This meant the NHS is likely to have little option but to become the main trainer of the next generation of OH professionals.
NHS occupational health de-partments are in the throes of a major reform process, at the centre of which is the Government's new NHS health and wellbeing improvement framework which is likely to lead to a rationalis-ation and merging of some units and the creation of larger units, especially if training is going to become more of a priority.
A further development has been the creation of a new OH delivery board for the NHS, which includes representatives from NHS Employers, NHS Plus and the staff side including the Royal College of Nursing.
Dr Ursula Ferriday, chair of the NHS Plus NHS Health at Work Network, is also producing a "registry of practice" in the NHS.
This will work as a benchmarking tool for its members, allowing practitioners to measure and record all aspects of practice in different OH units, such as, for example, the time it takes to get an appointment, and is expected to go "live" early in 2012.
In a separate development, a new clinical lead has been appointed to oversee SEQOHS.
Dr Sally Coomber, director of Suffolk Occupational Health for the Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, took up her position in September and will juggle the part-time post with her trust role.
She replaces Dr Paul Nicholson, associate medical director at Procter & Gamble, who had led on the development and launch phase of the programme, but in an unpaid capacity.
As of September 2011, a total of 162 occupational health units had been registered and 11 accredited with SEQOHS.
The latest units to be accredited are: Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, SEOHC in Caterham, CIGNA HealthCare Benefits and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.