Devil’s advocate: 12 days of OH christmas

The end of the year – and the first decade of the millennium – are drawing to a close. In the spirit of the season – yes, it’s the peak time of the year for serious self-harm again – here’s the bah-humbug 2009 Twelve days of Christmas…

Twelve sickies each in the public sector. But 2009 saw the first national (NICE) guidance on long-term absence, setting a new benchmark for employers.

Eleven letters about my article on evidence-based occupational health (OH). Evidence-based OH became a key feature of the Royal College of Nursing Conference.

Ten regional health and work posts were funded by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Clinical experience wasn’t even in the job description. DWP’s position? Apparently, OH nurses aren’t interested in jobs that only pay £50,000 per annum.

Nine new NICE recommendations on work issues – four on absence and five on mental wellbeing. Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) should do the right thing and start commissioning OH services for all.

Eight per cent unemployment, combined with 7% on incapacity benefit: the need to offer people specialist health support to resume work has never been greater.

Seven helpline sites for smaller companies (SMEs). After the Health and Safety Executive’s failed attempt to provide OH advice without OH specialists, NHS Plus got the chance to do it properly.

Six OH service accreditation standards. At last we have universal standards for OH services. OH nurses Gail Cotton and Graham Johnson led two of the workstreams. In the coming year we need service providers to accredit, and then we can continually raise the bar.

Five told things. OK, not exactly gold rings, but here are five things you wouldn’t have believed if I’d told you them a year ago:

  • Less OH-elected representatives at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is ‘good’
  • Most members of ‘OH Council’ organisations have no OH training
  • Educators will stop running Nursing and Midwifery Council-approved OH programmes
  • Fit-For-Work pilot schemes won’t have OH input
  • Advising an employer that someone is fit without getting express written consent in advance could breach General Medical Council guidance on confidentiality.

Four nurses on the Boorman ‘thank you’ list. Steve Boorman produced a first-rate report on the NHS with new data and thoughtful recommendations. A credit to our speciality.

Three regions with no NHS Plus champion in a telling demonstration of professional apathy – one of these is bigger than NHS Scotland. Doesn’t it make you proud?

Two publications of peer-reviewed primary research by UK OH nurses. Helen Kirk published her research on nursing director effectiveness, and Stuart Whittaker co-authored a study of cancer survivorship. Research isn’t easy, but it can and should be done.

One elected OH nurse rep left at the RCN (down from about 16). If OH nurses only do one thing next year, then it should be to vote and retain at least one.

As we look ahead to the second decade of the millennium, I forecast a lifting of the swine-flu mistletoe ban next year. Now there’s a thought to lift the spirits of Christmas Future.

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