Occupational medicine to lead new HWAAS

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The Government’s proposed health and work assessment and advisory service will have the potential to put occupational medicine “at the heart of an integrated system”, one of the ministers leading its implementation has said.

The Government is expected to give a progress report on the establishment of the service in September 2013, following a tendering process over the summer. Lord Freud, minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, told a conference of o­ccupational therapists in June that he had “high hopes” for the new service.

The Government has said it hopes to award the contract for the new service by the end of this year, with an aim for it to be up and running by the end of 2014 at the latest, though ideally from next spring.

Speaking to the College of Occupational Therapists’ annual conference in Glasgow, Lord Freud said: “It [the service] is a chance for GPs, employers, employees and occupational health professionals to work together to improve the health of the country and prevent a whole host of problems before they even begin.”

In the speech, tellingly entitled “Opportunities for occupational therapists”, Lord Freud added he expected the new service to have a role in “generating more interest from young medics looking for a specialism” as well as “encouraging more training and professional development” and “linking the service back into the mainstream”.

One of the key concerns within the profession has been where the service is going to find people to staff it. The Government estimates that it will need between 330 and 740 OH professionals, five to 10 physicians and 240 to 1,300 full-time equivalent healthcare professionals.

“As the population grows older, there will be an ever-increasing need to make the most of our productive workforce – in particular employers will increasingly need to rely on the skills and experience of older workers,” continued Lord Freud.

“As it is more difficult for those over 50 to return once they are out of work, supporting those employees at the onset of health conditions to remain in work is crucial. There will be clear benefits in spending modest amounts to maintain and promote people’s health during their working life to help them to stay healthier and enjoy the benefits of an active contribution for longer,” he added.

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