Occupational medicine in the UK is facing a recruitment and retention “perfect storm”, the Faculty and Society of Occupational Medicine has said.
The warning comes as reports by an influential group of MPs and the General Medical Council (GMC) highlighted a growing workforce crisis within the profession.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Occupational Safety and Health warned in a report – Occupational medical workforce crisis: the need for action to keep the UK workforce healthy – of a “deepening crisis of capability” within the profession to meet the health needs of the UK’s working population.
It said: “The occupational physician is the most critically and immediately endangered member of the multidisciplinary team.
“The age demographic of these trained and experienced professionals is increasing, and retirement exceeds retention, impacting not only access to care, but also the capacity to train and supervise new doctors.”
Meanwhile, the GMC, in its report, The State of Medical Education and Practice 2016, has calculated there has been an 11% reduction in specialist occupational physicians between 2011 and 2015.
The All-Party group report set out five recommendations it argued were needed to address the problem:
- Health Education England and equivalent devolved bodies should fund a model “that meets the requirement for occupational medicine training posts to meet the level of demand now and in the future”
- The government and insurers “should explore how to best incentivise employers to provide workers with access to multidisciplinary occupational health services”
- Employers of occupational medicine specialists within the NHS and private sector “should have incentives in place to retain existing occupational medicine professionals as they consider retirement”
- The NHS “must ensure that occupational medicine physician posts are part of safe, effective, quality-assured multidisciplinary occupational health teams”
- The GMC and royal colleges must ensure occupational medicine forms part of the core curricula, so “all medical undergraduates and doctors in postgraduate training understand the importance of work as a clinical outcome”.
In response, FOM and SOM pointed out that training posts for specialist occupational physicians are at an all-time low, down from 216 in 2002 to just 74 in 2015. Moreover, 64% of all doctors working in occupational medicine are aged 50 or over, and half could retire within a decade.
Faculty president Dr Richard Heron said: “With an ageing workforce, an increase in chronic conditions in people of working age, and more than 23 million working days lost each year to work-related illness, urgent action is needed to protect worker health and improve productivity for the health of our economy.”