The response of occupational health practitioners to the Covid-19 pandemic ‘has been absolutely amazing’, a leading health official has said, while also hinting that the government’s long-awaited response to its 2019 consultation on workplace health may now not be that far off.
Jean King, deputy director of the Work and Health Unit at the Department of Health and Social Care and Department for Work and Pensions, told today’s conference and annual general meeting of the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) that practitioners had played “a really key role” in the response to the pandemic.
Future of workplace health
“Occupational health providers responded to the challenge of Covid, and the challenge that people were facing, which we are all incredibly, incredibly grateful for. We recognise that did include a shift in the way that you were delivering services and supporting employers,” she said.
King also went out of her way to express her gratitude to the profession for its role in supporting mental and physical health throughout the pandemic.
“You have absolutely been critical in… stepping up and supporting people during Covid, which has been absolutely amazing. I do want to take that moment just to thank all of you for the really important work you have carried out in the pandemic and that you continue to do so,” she said.
Within that, the Covid return-to-work toolkits developed by SOM and the Faculty of Occupational Medicine had been “absolutely fantastic and made a real difference to people”, she added.
I do want to take that moment just to thank all of you for the really important work you have carried out in the pandemic and that you continue to do so” – Jean King, Work and Health Unit
King also hinted that the government’s response to its 2019 consultation Health is everyone’s business may not be that far off being published. The response had been expected last summer, and then late last year, but the fast-moving challenges of the pandemic have pushed its publication back.
“We anticipate the response will be published shortly,” King said, adding that she was “hoping to come back” to SOM members to be able to discuss the government’s proposals.
The response, she indicated, would look at critical areas such as OH workforce capacity and the training pipeline into the professions, how employers are able to access and better understand OH, and the possibility of financial incentives or subsidies.
The response would be combined with “a comparative review of international occupational health systems and qualitative research into innovation in the OH market”, she highlighted.
King also indicated it was likely the government would agree to the establishment of a centre or network for workplace health research that could play an “active role in commissioning and dissemination of research as well as having a role in academic leadership”. In the past it has been suggested this could be something along the lines of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, although the exact details remain unclear.
“We do feel it is a really exciting time for occupational health and we are very keen to continue to work with you to shape the direction of the agenda,” King concluded.