The OH profession is set to tell government that, if it is serious about using occupational health to make inroads into the UK’s sickness and absence bill, it will need to look long and hard at the profession’s workforce levels, training structures, funding, and links with other health professionals.
The government announced a “call for evidence” in October to feed back to national director of health and work Dame Carol Black, as she gathers evidence for her review on how to improve the health of the working population, expected to be published early in the New Year.
Key industry representatives met last month to try to hammer out an over-arching message to present to the review team alongside their own individual representations, Occupational Health has learned. Organisations represented at the meeting included NHS Plus, the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association, the Ministry of Defence, the Royal College of Nursing, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine and the Association of Local Authority Medical Advisers.
It is also thought the meeting was attended by civil servants from the Department for Work and Pensions and even members of Black’s team, highlighting the importance being attached to the consultation within government circles.
A consensus is starting to emerge about the message the profession should be sending to Black. One insider told Occupational Health that the size of the profession, and particularly how it could build the capacity to take on the responsibilities sought of it by government, was a key point of debate.
“There was a lot of discussion around manpower. It was also clear the review is very much interested in the role of primary care and GPs. The debate was very much around the way we work and who we work with,” they said.
Training was another issue high on the agenda, with much discussion about the present and possible future roles of specialist OH practitioners, nurses, OH technicians, GPs and physicians.
“It is clear we need to be saying to the government that training needs to be addressed. There needs to be an industry-wide acknowledgement of who needs to be doing what,” said another source.
The review is also likely to be told that employers must be part of any solution.
This is likely to focus on the practical steps that bosses and managers can take to reduce sickness absence in their organisations and promote healthier lifestyles, and when they should be calling in expert help instead.