The NHS is “urgently” working to put in place extra occupational health provision for NHS workers during the coronavirus crisis, a health minister has said.
In a letter to Dr Will Ponsonby, president of the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM), health minister Jo Churchill said the pandemic had meant publication of the NHS People Plan, which was due to outline measures to speed up access to OH for NHS staff, will now be delayed until the autumn.
However, she added: “Although publication of the final NHS People Plan has been delayed, the health and wellbeing of our NHS staff cannot wait. That is why we have commissioned the NHS to urgently put in place a package of support for NHS staff during this time. This package will involve accelerating development of some elements of the People Plan, such as occupational health provision.”
To that end, NHS England and NHS Improvement were now working to appoint a number of SEQOHS-accredited occupational health providers with the capacity to provide services for a national contract, Churchill said. NHS trusts will be able to buy in existing OH support from these providers on an ad-hoc basis.
The extra services will include access to a supply of temporary occupational health staff and fast-track health clearance for returning NHS workers and volunteers, she added.
On top of this, there will be access to OH physicians, OH adviser management referrals, a Covid-19 helpline, and a range of wellbeing services, including counselling, coaching and musculoskeletal and physiotherapy support.
Churchill wrote: “We are working around the clock to give the NHS and social care sector the equipment and support they need. The full weight of the government is behind this effort, we are working closely with industry, the NHS, social care providers and the army to ensure the right equipment continues to be delivered to the right setting.”
Access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect the health and safety of NHS workers has been a major issue during the crisis, and a key political pressure point for the government, even with the publication of a PPE plan earlier this month.
The mental health and wellbeing of under-pressure NHS workers has also been in the spotlight, with a recent survey by the think-tank The Institute for Public Policy Research concluding that half of health professionals battling the coronavirus had felt their mental health had deteriorated, with younger staff especially likely to be feeling “overwhelmed”.
Separately, SOM is conducting a survey to try to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on occupational health, and OH practitioners are being encouraged to take part. The survey can be found here and will be repeated after the lockdown has ended to assess how things may have changed, SOM has said.