Occupational health profession report says repositioning needed

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A multidisciplinary group of OH leaders has been mapping out a ­vision of how OH will need to be delivered over the next five to 20 years and what it will mean in terms of planning the future OH workforce.

The “Planning for the future” project has been sponsored and supported by the Council for Health and Work and led by Professor John Harrison, chair of Syngentis, the not-for profit organisation provider of OH advice to the NHS and public sector that was spun out of NHS Plus earlier this year.

It was tasked with looking at how the UK working population would evolve in this time frame, what the subsequent drivers and constraints on OH resources would be, and to analyse what might be likely workforce pinch points and formulate some ideas and solutions.

Its report, published in June, ­argued that the notion of the “working age population” will need to be ­extended over the next 20 years to encompass those aged 16-75 and in work, those with a higher risk of falling into worklessness, those with pre-existing conditions known to affect fitness to work, those with an increased prevalence of chronic disease (especially the over-50s) and those working in smaller businesses.

However, the council argued it would not be realistic for it “to extend a responsibility for advising about fitness for work to people who are unemployed”.

Other factors likely to be driving change include increased globalisation, technological change and changes in the education and training of healthcare professionals.

There was, it concluded, a “compelling case” for the repositioning of OH, with OH being able to play a pivotal role in helping government and society to use the workplace to improve health and wellbeing, prevent work-related illness and deliver integrated care.

“There is a real opportunity for OH to make the business case for health and wellbeing interventions based around the workplace and employment,” it concluded.

There was a choice for OH to help with both prevention and management of chronic conditions, but it “may have to decide the level at which it incorporates preventative wellbeing strategies into its arsenal”, the group argued.

It could become a “major player” in tackling obesity and could have a key role in terms of the evolution of cancer into a manageable condition, with more people managing cancer while remaining in work.

The report recommended that over the next year to two years, the councils works to define the role and future of the OH workforce, knowledge, skills and competence levels and future service delivery models.

It also recommended the creation of a national marketing and communications strategy for OH. This would need to encompass helping the public to better understand what OH is, its value and how to access it.

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