The government has made a clear link between the expansion and improvement of occupational health services and its plans to get more people off incapacity benefits and back into work.
Until now, the role of OH professionals within ministers’ plans for reform of the welfare benefits system has been had been unclear. But, with January’s publication of its Green Paper, A New Deal for Welfare, it has clarified the central part OH will play.
Among the OH-specific proposals outlined by ministers in the paper, which is being consulted on until 21 April, are:
- Better access to existing return-to-work support and entirely new NHS-based programmes (as yet unspecified)
- Ensuring all employees have access to competent OH advice and support (as outlined in Health, Work and Wellbeing paper published in October 2005)
- Creating workplaces where the health and wellbeing of workers is protected and where workers can do more to improve their own health and wellbeing (as outlined in 2004’s public health White Paper Choosing Health)
- Encouraging health professionals to recognise the importance of work for their patients’ wellbeing, including putting more work-focused messages into nursing and medical training
- Giving people wider access to investigations and treatments while remaining in work
- Two-thirds of small and medium-sized businesses to have access to OH support through the Health and Safety Executive’s Workplace Health Connect initiative by 2007, with national coverage by 2008
- The piloting of an OH advice line for GPs to help in the management of working-age patients and a national education programme for GPs on health and work
- Establishing GPs with special interest in OH within primary care trusts or practices
- Initial reaction to the Green Paper by employers, health professionals and unions has been cautious.
The CBI warned more support would be needed if employers were to be encouraged to employ and support the long-term sick.
The TUC was concerned that some people who could not really work would end up being pressured to do so. And the British Medical Association warned it would need to be made clear that GPs were not becoming “the enforcement arm” of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Go to www.dwp.gov.uk