Occupational health is a key element in the most ambitious strategy since
the founding of the NHS, said Charles Auld, chief executive of the General
Healthcare Group and member of the public sector strategy board at the CBI.
During his keynote speech, ‘Occupational health, who needs it?’, Auld quoted
liberally from the report Securing good health for the population and the
earlier ‘Securing Health Together’ strategy, as evidence of how much the
Government and the economy does indeed need OH.
With the NHS currently spending £1m every nine minutes, it is no wonder the
Government has a long-term commitment to improving the health of the workforce,
OH will be the most important instrument in this policy. This is because the
Government – and more specifically, Chancellor Gordon Brown, who commissioned
Securing good health for the population – recognises that OH is uniquely placed
to promote this message directly to both employers and the workforce.
Auld admitted there are difficulties ahead, not least the poor coverage of
OH services among small to medium-sized enterprises, the lack of any legal
requirement for employers to offer an OH service, and limited resources.
He said these weaknesses must be addressed, and offer an opportunity for
this sector to get significant Government funding and support. The further
education and training of more OH nurses may well be required, he added.
Auld also admitted that until recently at the CBI, healthcare was just a
shorter word for sickness absence, and hadn’t enjoyed a high enough profile.
The Government and businesses’ realisation of the impact of workplace health
issues on the economy, which resulted in Brown commissioning more work in this
area, has changed this perception, he said.