More than four out of 10 occupational health providers have seen a surge in demand for their services because of Covid-19, but for nearly a third the coronavirus pandemic has led to their work declining, in some cases sharply, according to a survey by SOM, the Society of Occupational Medicine.
The poll of 94 members found 26% reporting that demand had increased “significantly” in the fortnight to June 10, and 16% had seen demand go up “somewhat”.
By comparison, 22% had found demand had decreased significantly or, for 8%, somewhat. For about a quarter, 28%, their work had stayed largely the same.
The survey was made up of large providers (41%), self-employed providers (30%), small providers (25%) and medium-sized providers (4%).
Of those reporting new demand, the vast majority (87%) was coming from existing customers, the survey concluded.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, large employers (43%) made up the bulk of this extra demand, followed by the NHS (30%) and small and medium-sized enterprises (30%).
In terms of what sort of services were being sought, the most common areas were advice on the vulnerable or shielded groups, fitness for work assessments, advice on working from home (including reasonable adjustments), support with health surveillance, and health and safety assessments. Advice for parents on the effect of school closures on work was deemed the least common area where support was wanted or needed.
The vast majority of staff supported during this period had been working from home (43%), followed by those working at their normal place of work (35%) or furloughed (19%).
Others included those off work and on company sick pay (12%), on statutory sick pay (3%) or who had been made redundant (2%).
When it came to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of staff returning to the workplace, offering access to counselling and employee assistance programmes was a popular response, along with psychological services and helplines, guidance and webinars, pointers to government or public advice and risk assessments.
More generally, the main occupational health return-to-work support issues respondents were facing were psychological, social distancing and medical assessments, the ending of shielding, and managing a reluctance to return to work, the survey found.
Managing safety and health surveillance were also highlighted as key challenges in this context.