The NHS has failed to act on recommendations about occupational health and a renewed effort is needed, according to an expert panel set up by the government.
Dr David Snashall, who chairs the Expert Group on Occupational Health in the NHS set up in 2001, said that interventions to improve the health of NHS staff were not working. Following the publication of the Nuffield Trust’s report Improving the Health of the NHS Workforce in 1998, there has been much activity, but it has not been “joined up”, Snashall said.
“What the workforce has seen is an increase in work, stress, targets and speed,” he added.
The Expert Group has found that there is a lack of metrics on the health of staff. “We don’t actually know what the health of the NHS workforce is… and many of us think it’s getting worse, and much of that is occupationally induced.”
The reputation of OH departments in the NHS is part of the problem. “Many OH departments lack credibility – in the eyes of many in NHS trusts, OH departments are not seen as adding value,” said Snashall.
He called for a “whole systems approach” with management involvement rather than allowing managers to view employee health as simply a medical issue. Mental health should be seen as a priority.
The efficiency of the service in the future depended on raising the profile of employee health in response to challenges including a tightening labour market for medical professionals and the challenges of staff retention and finding good quality people.
He said the NHS needs to learn from other organisations, including the military and large companies both in the UK and overseas.
The expert group recommended:
The Nuffield Trust report should be revived.
Better use of the electronic staff record to monitor health trends.
Questions about health be added to the NHS employee survey.
Managers be trained to deal with issues of ill health at work.
There should be a longitudinal study similar to the ‘Whitehall’ research on civil service staff.
OH and safety standards should be developed and implemented.