OH should support health staff with mental ill health

A new framework has outlined how NHS trusts and occupational health (OH) departments should better support doctors, nurses and other clinicians who suffer from mental ill health.

The Invisible Patients report by the Department of Health’s Health of Health Professionals working group has set out a range of guidelines for front-line NHS services to help clinicians with health problems get prompt help without fear or stigma.

The report estimated that mental illness sickness absence in the health service costs the NHS £1.3bn. Stress-related disorders alone are thought to account for almost one-third of sick leave, at an estimated cost of £300-£400m, with spending on agency staff as a result adding 4%, or £1.45bn to the wage bill.

So it recommends that sick health professionals who cannot access suitable local services, and whose condition may compromise the quality of patient care, should have prompt access to GPs and occupational physicians.

Trusts should also establish a group of health professionals with enhanced skills in treating health professionals, and there should be between two and four specialist services in England for the treatment of health professionals with complex mental health problems or addiction.

It also called for OH services to be strengthened and accredited, with appropriately trained staff and adequate funding and provided for all health professionals (including locums) working in primary and secondary care, as well as the independent sector.

“Creating and sustaining healthy workplaces and a healthy workforce begin at the very start of professional education, training and regulation, and continue throughout all the key stages of professional and career development,” said professor Alastair Scotland, director of the National Clinical Assessment Service, who led the review.

The framework outlined the key responsibilities “for delivering and fostering a professional and workplace culture in which the risks for ill health are minimised, and in which those professionals who do fall ill can tackle these challenges without fear of stigma or discrimination,” he added.

At the same time, NHS Employers has launched a campaign called Open Your Mind, to raise awareness of stigma against NHS workers with mental ill health, improve employment rates for people with mental health conditions, and help trusts create a better working environment for all staff.

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