National director for health and work Dame Carol Black called on occupational health (OH) to take a leading role in the government’s plans to boost the health of working-age people and raise awareness of the value of OH to business.
“I cannot make the business case for you that will have to come from this room,” Black told delegates at the RCN Society of Occupational Health Nursing conference.
“I’m told that one of the first things a company cuts is OH. I think that is because they don’t think it affects the bottom line. I’m prepared to give you all the support I can but I can’t make the case for you – that has to be made by you, with passion.”
Black was speaking the same week as the government’s recommendations were launched in response to recommendations Black made in her review of work and health, published in March 2008.
She urged OH nurses to be involved in plans for regional health and work co-ordinators, the pilots of fit-for-work teams, a hotline for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the Council for Occupational Health, and to bid for funds from the new Challenge Fund (see News analysis, page 10).
She said that the time had come for action. “How do we just stop people talking and get them to really do joint projects?” she asked.
She criticised “silo working” and encouraged OH to co-operate with GPs in their patients’ interests. However, she admitted “that is a journey that is not going to happen over night.”
Black suggested senior OH nurses would be good candidates for the regional co-ordinator roles. “It’s going to need people with real knowledge and skills and training to be regional co-ordinators,” she said.
She also encouraged OH practitioners to bid for fit-for-work pilots, and said there will probably be a stakeholder event early this year to discuss this. She suggested that OH nurses could take on case manager roles in the pilots. “That seems to me to be a very suitable role for any nurse that would like to expand out of their usual activity,” said Black.
She said that OH practitioners needed to work harder to raise awareness of the speciality among employers, and urged them to promote the government’s Business Healthcheck tool, launched in 2008.