The chair of the British Medical Association’s occupational medicine committee has warned there is a danger employers misunderstand the scale of support that will be provided by the government’s new Health and Work Service (HWS) when it launches this autumn.
Dr Paul Nicholson, in an editorial in the BMJ, has argued employers should not jump to the conclusion that the HWS will necessarily be effective as a tool to promote or support mental health in the workplace.
The government has consistently promoted HWS as an “occupational health advice and support” service, he pointed out.
Yet the service will primarily be an absence management tool and, as such, is not expected to have any focus on illness or injury prevention, something you normally would expect to see within an OH service.
“The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has described the HWS as providing ‘occupational health advice and support’, however, it must be noted only insofar as ‘to help individuals with a health condition to stay in or return to work’,” said Dr Nicholson.
“Occupational health is a broad specialty that has a particular emphasis on protecting and promoting the health of people at work. DWP’s description of a sickness absence management service that has no preventive element as occupational health advice and support is inevitably confusing,” he added.
To that end, there was likely to be value in the continuing promotion of existing tools such as the Mindful Employer Charter and the Department of Health’s Public Health Responsibility Deal mental health pledge that are perhaps not that well known by employers, he argued.
“Perhaps one area where we could really do better is for more joined-up working to share and reapply the many examples of best practice across the many professional boundaries,” he added.