The occupational health profession will in the summer begin to see more flesh being added to the government’s reform agenda for occupational health, the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) has said, although it has urged the government to step up the pace.
SOM last week hosted minister for disabled people, health and work Chloe Smith at an event at the occupational health departments of Transport for London and Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London.
There, SOM president Dr Jayne Moore emphasised the need for movement on the plans announced nearly a year ago by the government in its response to the Health is everyone’s business consultation.
These include the development of a subsidy model to encourage employers to invest in occupational health provision, new non-statutory guidance on supporting disabled people and people with long-term health conditions to remain in work, the possibility of a new Centre for Work and Health Research, the expansion of fit note certification, and work on how to expand OH’s workforce capacity.
Dr Moore said: “SOM welcomes the minister’s visit. It is calling for the minister to create new momentum and sense of urgency to increase access to occupational health, particularly for small and medium enterprises. We ask that a clear delivery plan is now put in place.”
Chloe Smith said of the visit: “I was delighted to visit the two occupational health departments on the day it was confirmed we met a key government goal to see one million more disabled people in work. Helping people stay in work is just as important as helping people start in work.”
Occpational health reform
SOM chief executive Nick Pahl told OHW+ it is hopeful it will be updated on progress soon by the government’s Work and Health Unit. “SOM would like to see an implementation plan as soon as possible with key timescales as soon as possible,” he said.
The unit is working on how a pilot subsidy or incentive model for SMEs to use occupational health might work, especially how to do it while also minimising bureaucratic costs on small businesses.
A consultation is also expected over the summer on reforms to the SEQOHS accreditation model, led by Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), Pahl also highlighted.
New diploma in occupational health
Equally, a working group has been set up by the National School of Occupational Health, with input from SOM and FOM, on ways in increase OH’s workforce capacity. This includes the development of a new modular diploma in occupational health practice, targeted at OH nurses and allied health professionals, and based on the existing diploma in occupational medicine.
The diploma was formally launched by FOM this week, initially available for registered nurses. FOM said is has been designed to help those already working in occupational health to progress their career and encourage others to move into the sector.
Professor Ira Madan, FOM’s academic dean, said: “The effects of the pandemic and post-Covid syndrome have underlined the value occupational health provides in helping people remain in, or return to, work following ill health.
“This new diploma will enable registered healthcare professionals gain the skills to develop their career or make the move into this rewarding sector.”
On a new work and health unit, the hope is that a procurement process will start later this year.
Expanding occupational health access
Pahl also pointed out that SOM had used the visit to press the minister on expanding access to OH, in line with its ‘universal access’ campaign.
“SOM welcomed the visit. It sends a message that the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] are interested and care about this agenda,” he said.
SOM made the case to the minister that all disabled people should have access to OH advice (through NHS if not their employer) and that all people with long Covid should have access to OH advice through long Covid clinics. The point was also made that OH potentially has an important role in helping the government with its levelling up agenda.
As Pahl said: “The minister agreed that this was a levelling up issue and there was real value in occupational health supporting disabled people to start in work to assist with the agenda.”