When Alan Milburn launched the concept of NHS Plus on an unsuspecting world
in March he took even his own civil servants by surprise. They have been
running to catch up ever since and senior civil servant Elizabeth Johnston was
despatched to SOHN to unveil the concept to a fascinated, if somewhat sceptical
The idea behind NHS Plus is that the NHS should be able to sell its spare
occupational health capacity to businesses on the open market. In theory, this
would benefit everybody, allowing small and medium-sized firms to benefit from
the NHS expertise in providing occupational health services while the Trust’s
OH service generated some much-needed income that could be ploughed back into
the service it provides to its own staff.
Delegates at the conference, however, were critical of some of the
fundamental assumptions underpinning this theory. Although it was acknowledged
that many NHS Trusts are already doing exactly this type of income-generating
work, questions were raised about how much demand there was likely to be for
these services; how the pricing structure would operate; and indeed whether the
NHS should be doing this type of work at all given the pressure it is under to
supply a decent occupational health service to its own staff.
Johnston was upbeat, however, citing her belief that income-generation would
allow the trusts to expand and improve their services to staff, rather than
She admitted, however, that the Department of Health would not have the
power to force individual trusts to ring-fence the income that their
occupational health departments generated.
NHS Plus is due to be launched next autumn and there is a 10-year time-frame
to develop a comprehensive service.