The Government should consider ring-fencing the savings it expects to make from its new work assessment and advisory service and use the money to fund a new government-backed occupational health nurse training course, a leading OH nurse has said.
Graham Johnson, clinical lead, nursing at Bupa Health and Well-being, said that this type of commitment would be one way of resolving the worries that the current capacity and size of the OH profession will not be able to match the Government’s ambitions.
Johnson said: “If the Government is serious about this, perhaps it should take the money it expects to save from the public purse and redirect it to set up a government-funded OH nurse training course. If it did that now, by September 2015 the first cohort of nurses would be qualified.
“So you could already have a group of individuals, trained and funded by the Government, and with the skills the Government wants. Otherwise, I think we will struggle as a profession to find these individuals.”
The creation of a new advice and advisory service was at the heart of the Government’s response in January to 2011’s Health at work – an independent review of sickness absence by Dame Carol Black, then national director for health and work, and David Frost, then director general of the British Chambers of Commerce.
The Government has estimated the new service will need between 330 and 740 OH professionals and between five and 10 physicians specialising in occupational health.
The service is expected to cost between £25 million and £50 million, but could benefit the Exchequer by between £100 million and £215 million.
While broadly welcoming the move, John Harrison, director of NHS Plus, agreed the workforce issue was a potential concern.
“Increasingly, it may be a case of needing to have a much broader vision of what the OH workforce is comprising. There will be a role for other professionals, especially those allied to occupational medicine. But I still think it is going to be challenging to make sure that we have enough people that have been suitably trained,” he said.