Doctors fear occupational health services could be axed

Mother and baby in doctor's office
Photo: REX/Monkey Business Images

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said it is seeking urgent assurances from the Government following reports that GPs suffering from exhaustion and stress will no longer have access to a centrally funded occupational health (OH) service.

Reports in the medical press had suggested a review of OH services by NHS England was set to recommend that funding be withdrawn for all GPs from April 2014, unless there was a performance issue or a GP required an additional assessment when registering for the first time on one of the national performers lists.

The national performers lists are three national lists for medical, dental and ophthalmic practitioners designed to show that those practising in the NHS are suitably qualified, have up-to-date training, have appropriate English-language skills and have passed all relevant checks.

NHS England carried out a survey of OH services last year and confirmed to the BMA that, from April 2014, GP practices will have to fund such services for staff they employ, rather than being centrally funded.

However, it clarified that it would continue to fund an OH assessment for GPs experiencing burnout without performance concerns being raised.

An NHS spokesperson told the BMA: “The outcome of this review is not expected to be a cost saving – unfortunately, the incidence of health problems affecting health professionals appears to be increasing and therefore we will expect greater use of such services in the future.

“In this context, however, it is not possible for NHS England to fund access to OH services for all primary-care-employed staff for all independent contractors – to do this means that NHS England is picking up funding for what is ultimately an employer’s responsibility, and we need to prioritise our support and taxpayers’ money on the responsibilities that fall to NHS England with its regulatory function.”

NHS England was developing a practitioner support unit aimed at supporting all doctors suffering from stress, the spokesperson added. In a joint letter to the Department of Health, BMA occupational medicine committee chair Dr Paul Nicholson and GPs committee chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned the Government that the BMA had received reports of inconsistent access to OH services in England.

“We believe that the stress caused by rising workloads and work intensity that many NHS staff are presently under is adding to the need for appropriate, specialist-led OH services,” they said.

“In spite of the many initiatives to guarantee OH services for all NHS staff, and at a time when doctors face increased stress, it is unacceptable that GP OH services are in jeopardy as the Department of Health and NHS England reviews funding.”

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