Calls for OH remit to extend to those outside the workplace

Occupational medicine needs to broaden its horizons to address not only the health needs of working people, but the working age population as a whole, the outgoing president of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine has said.

Dr Bill Gunnyeon stood down in May after three years as head of the faculty to became chief medical adviser at the Department for Work and Pensions, where he will play a key role in plans to get millions of people off incapacity benefit and back into work.

He called on occupational physicians and the wider OH community to grasp a “great opportunity for our specialty”, and lift its sights when it came to workplace health.

While the profession’s traditional role of promoting and protecting the health and well-being of those in work should not be ignored, it could play a greater role in four key areas, he suggested.

These were: helping people into work; assisting those currently disabled to return to work; supporting those who wished to extend the length of their working lives; and improving the general health of those in work or seeking to be in work.

This, in turn, would “secure the future of the specialty of occupational medicine and create a proper focus on the health of the working age population with consequent benefits for patients, employers and society,” he said.

“The role and importance of work in the lives of people and the interaction between health and work now has a profile and a focus that it has never had before, and our specialty encompasses a unique set of skills and experience that can make a significant contribution to this agenda,” Gunnyeon added.

Carol Black, president of the Royal College of Physicians, backed his call.

“If we are to succeed in reducing health and social inequalities, then seeking to improve the health of the population of working age and supporting people’s retention in and return to work is critical,” she said.

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