OH managers in the NHS are at risk unless they show more leadership and become more effective at demonstrating the cost benefits of their services.
Dr Kit Harling, director of the NHS Plus Project, said a change of approach was needed to compete with private sector suppliers of
“You will not survive in a commercial situation using public service administration from 10 years ago,” Harling warned.
“If we can’t do it better and cheaper than all these people who haven’t got the experience we’ve got, then we might as well go home,” he added.
Harling told delegates that the first meeting of a new stakeholder group tasked with developing a new approach to OH in the NHS would take place on 15 June. Health professionals, employers and unions including the Royal College of Nursing would discuss what the OH service should do in future, and a consultation period and ‘voluntary guidance’ would follow later. Once the guidance was ratified, OH managers would either have to comply with it or justify why they had not, Harling said.
He urged NHS OH nurses to boost their leadership competencies. “The world’s moved on,” he said. “One of the things we lack is managerial competence. Management competence is going to be a desperate need.”
Practitioners should question the value of tasks such as pre-employment questionnaires or absence reports if they do not lead to OH outcomes. “What is the value added?” Harling said. “Shuffling paper doesn’t add value.”
He also urged OH nurses to embrace a broader public health role. “We’re the specialists in health at work – what are we doing about it? Nothing. We should be campaigning, looking to the future… There’s a huge group of people out there who never get at our services.”
On the other hand, he admitted that the NHS Plus service would continue to focus on NHS staff until it was considered ready to extend its services to external customers nationally.
Harling also advised OH professionals to take responsibility for making the government’s health, work and wellbeing strategy work, rather than waiting for ministers to unveil plans. “It [the government] doesn’t have a rabbit to pull out of the hat,” he said. “What it has is a commitment to help you improve the delivery of OH. You have to make the plans.”