Public Health England (PHE) has thrown its weight and funding behind the ongoing work by the Council for Work and Health to map out a future blueprint for training and workforce planning for occupational and workplace health.
The move has come as the council has issued a stark warning that, without a major rethink around strategic workforce planning and a marked acceleration of recruitment, the UK will in the coming years face a “dramatic shortage” of occupational health (OH) professionals.
In May the council published the latest instalment of the work it has been doing in this area since last year, updating an interim report published last June.
The latest report, “Planning the future, delivering a vision of good work and health in the UK for the next 5-20 years”, is aiming to predict how OH will be delivered in the future, and the workforce planning that will be needed as a result.
Council chair Diana Kloss said: “Occupational health can play a major part in sustaining economic growth by enabling people to continue to work despite health problems, supporting people back into work more quickly and effectively after ill health, and reducing sickness absence. Good occupational health services need to be delivered by a multi-professional team.”
Professor John Harrison, lead author of the report, said: “As the UK’s population ages, Britain will need to keep people economically active for longer. There will need to be a radical shift in how we deliver joined-up healthcare, and we need to make sure that we have the right mix of healthcare professionals to deliver that care.
“Occupational health professionals have the ability to influence and improve the health of thousands of individuals by changing workplace practices and policies compared with GPs, who see patients on a one-to-one basis,” he added.
One fillip for the council is that, having up until now been subsidising this work itself, it has now secured funding from PHE to take the research forward.
A literature review is being carried out and a further report is being worked on, to be presented next spring.
“We are aiming to produce a report for PHE so that it can begin to get a handle on what capacity is going to be needed to take forward the public health agenda, and what sorts of things we need to do,” Harrison told Occupational Health.
The work the council is doing will also feed into the wider activity being led by the Society of Occupational Medicine and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM) to create a single body or college for OH.
This summer, too, will see the launch of a new National School for Occupational Health, which will oversee specialty training in occupational medicine in England from August.
The school is a joint initiative between Health Education England, the FOM, postgraduate deans, trainers and trainees, and follows a review by the General Medical Council back in 2011.
The purpose of the school, said the faculty, “is to provide a focal point for supporting training in the specialty, unite current trainees, attract new doctors to the specialty, and promote a more effective and supportive model of training for the future”.
However, Harrison, who was leading this initiative as well as working as a consultant in occupational medicine at Imperial College, London, has now moved on to a new role, as chief medical officer for Devon and Cornwall Police, although he will continue his work with the council.
“My role is a combination of force medical adviser with looking at how to take the force forward in terms of delivering health and wellbeing. The police is facing huge challenges over the next few years; we are going to see forces merging and having to work more closely together,” he said.