NHS faces OH merger plans

England’s NHS occupational health departments could be merged into 10 to 12 regional services under radical plans being considered by the Department of Health (DoH).

The idea, which does not yet have ministerial approval but is being seriously talked about in Whitehall, would be to create a regional structure that could better fight for funding, concentrate expertise and offer more career development.

Instead of OH practitioners being employed by individual trusts, they would be part of much larger, regional teams.

The idea is being promoted by OH physician Dr Kit Harling (pictured), seconded to the DoH as director of NHS Plus.

Currently, there are 650 trusts in England, of which 220 have in-house OH departments, with the rest buying in OH services.

“Even the largest OH department owned by a trust is a trivial amount of work for that trust and they can find it hard to get senior management engagement. If you have a regional service, its entire focus is on OH. It would keep its own profits and it would be able to offer, for the first time, true career development opportunities,” said Harling.

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