Is it a coincidence that welfare benefits are changing while pre-employment health screening is being removed?
I agree with the proposal that occupational health must reposition itself vis-à-vis the changes to welfare benefits and legislation such as the Equality Act (Occupational Health, November, 2010).
However, is it a coincidence that benefit claimants are being assessed – allegedly in some cases by less-than-robust processes if the press is to be believed – for fitness to work and being moved from one type of benefit to another to reduce the massive welfare costs, while at the same timewe are mandated to cease pre-employment health screening under the Equality Act? Or is it a conspiracy?
Cynical I may be, but the consequences of this are twofold, in my opinion:
- It is more likely that disabilities will not be adequately accounted for before deployment. We [OH practitioners] had coached employers and managers to be aware of the requirement not to filter out those with disabilities covered by the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), which had enforced the concept of discrimination from the point of application. Employers were required to seek an OH opinion on adjustments as soon as reasonable during the recruitment process.
In my experience, employers were wholly on board with this critically important matter and had finally arrived at an understanding that disabilities need not be a barrier to effective working. Now we need a new programme of education for employers that says do something different.
Case law established since the inception of the DDA had filtered through and was a useful tool to use in educating managers to be able to demonstrate due diligence to prevent possible claims for potentially unlimited compensation being awarded.
Many of those claimants who are, or are perceived to be, forced into work will last a relatively short period of time before exacerbating their pre-existing health problem. They will then have to go through a claims merry-go-round to re-establish benefits. This will save the Government a few bob but employers will have all the recruitment and employment costs only to lose the new colleague to reduced health. This is helpful to no one in the long term and can be demoralising for all concerned.
I do not believe in mass pre-employment health screening for the sake of it. However, it is a valuable tool in assessing suitability for roles where physical or mental demands – which are not necessarily considered “intrinsic” to the role and so will be outlawed – need to be assessed.
Some employers have suggested that they may introduce more robust screening after appointment when it becomes perfectly legal to scrutinise health and increased monitoring of performance and attendance in order to filter out the reluctant claimants as quickly as possible.
Again, we won’t know the true effects of the new Act until more case law has been established, by which time a new Government may be in place and have a further review of welfare benefits deciding that we can’t afford them at all.
Accounting for quality
On another issue, thank you for Dr Richard Preece’s Devil’s Advocate column (Occupational Health, November, 2010). It made me aware of a further piece of legislation launched on the same day as the Equality Act that had completely (although not surprisingly) escaped my notice.
I discovered that my own business – People Asset Management – was named in this column as an organisation that “may reach the threshold for NHS work” and will be required to prepare Quality Accounts under the “Quality Accounts Regulations 2010” for publication on the NHS Choices website.
I contacted my finance manager to get her on board and ready to publish said Accounts, only to find that it is accounting for quality services rather than the “quality” or otherwise of my business accounts.
I should be, and am of course, duly shamed. Apologies to Occupational Health if you had already published details of this further bureaucratic legislation.
I may well have skim read it and ignored it as not relevant to me as a private organisation.
As for Dr Preece’s view that the Quality Accounts Regulations have an “aim to make sure that people are treated appropriately and organisations held to account for this”, this is the first year in which Quality Accounts have been published under the guidance issued by the Department of Health, in which independent providers to the NHS are expected to comply with the same guidance as NHS Foundation Trusts. So that we can waste as much money as they do? Oops, not another conspiracy?
Jane Fairburn is OH services director at People Asset Management.