A pilot of an occupational health subsidy for small businesses will be expanded under plans announced in the chancellor’s 2023 Budget today.
Jeremy Hunt said the government wanted to help people with health conditions before they decide to leave their jobs, and recognised the role occupational health teams play in this.
He said the government would bring forward two new consultations on how to improve the availability and take-up of occupational health services, and double the funding for the small business subsidy pilot which was announced in 2021.
The Treasury’s Budget 2023 policy paper says: “The government will consult on ways to boost UK occupational health coverage, including, for example, through regulations to require employers to provide occupational health services.
Occupational health access
Lack of access to OH key factor in older-age worklessness
“The consultation will also consider a process of kitemarking and professional accreditation to assure the quality of occupational health services.
“To ensure occupational health providers can meet this increased demand for their services, the consultation will also consider the supply of occupational health professionals, including through the long-term workforce plan for the NHS.”
Around half of UK employees currently have access to occupational health services, which is lower than some international comparators, according to Department for Work and Pensions research.
Other announcements included:
- embedding tailored employment support within mental health and musculoskeletal (MSK) services in England, including scaling up MSK hubs in the community.
- digitising the NHS Health Check to identify and prevent more cases of cardiovascular disease
- ensuring NHS resources including apps for managing mental health and MSK conditions are readily available, so that more people can access support quickly
- piloting a new ‘WorkWell’ programme to better integrate employment and health support.
“These measures will support people with long-term health conditions to access the services they need, effectively manage their conditions and feel supported to return to or remain in employment,” the policy paper says.
DWP will also publish a health and disability white paper, which will set out reforms to make sure people with disabilities have the right support, opportunities and incentives to move into and remain in work.
Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) president Dr Shriti Pattani said OH providers were “ready to deliver what is needed”.
“The occupational health sector welcomes the Budget announcement to help improve workplace health. Occupational health expertise at the heart of workplace health is a game-changer in that it helps avoid health-related inactivity,” she said.
“However, what would really move the dial to tackle economic inactivity is universal access to OH and we would like to see the government state its aim to achieve this ambition.”
What would really move the dial to tackle economic inactivity is universal access to OH” – Dr Shriti Pattani, SOM
Alan Ballard, chair of the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association (COHPA), said: “Without occupational health guidance, businesses may unintentionally waste their investment on ‘wellness programmes’ and ‘general health checks’, which have little impact on workforce drop-outs.
“We are launching an introductory guide to help inform business. OH can significantly boost productivity and bottom lines as OH expertise is at the centre of preventing workforce drop-outs.”
John Godfrey, chair of business-led coalition group Business for Health said more needed to be done to keep people with health conditions in work.
“At a time when many businesses are already struggling with rising costs, offering SMEs subsidies to introduce health appraisals and occupational health support is crucial to ensure no one is left behind. But we need to do more, by bringing in ‘health’ into ESG and invest in long-term sustainable health and care infrastructure,” he said.
Hannah Copeland, HR business partner at HR consultancy firm WorkNest, said: “Mental health and musculoskeletal matters remain top of the list for the majority of our clients in terms of the leading cause of long and short term absence.
“Additional support in this area can never be enough and will not supplement the health care provisions often provided by employers who can afford them. However, it’s positive that the need for investment in these areas is recognised and will be vital to getting employees back to work in times where some very complex health challenges are preventing skilled employees from prospering at work.”