Many NHS occupational health (OH) departments have increased the numbers of registered nurses they employ over the past two years, although there remains a wide variation in the mix between nurses, doctors and other staff, as well as a marked reluctance to employ OH technicians, a survey by NHS Plus has concluded.
The workforce survey was carried out across 33 trusts which took part in a similar survey in 2007, as well as a further 29 trusts.
The 33 against which a comparison could be made reported on average a 14% increase in whole-time equivalent registered nurses.But at the other end of the scale, fewer than half of the departments surveyed said they used OH technicians and healthcare support workers to complement professionally registered clinical staff.
The survey also found wide variations in the use of Agenda for Change pay grades, as well as an “urgent need” for a review of the workforce requirements, training and recruitment of doctors into NHS OH services.
Keith Johnston, programme manager for NHS Plus, told Occupational Health the finding that there had been more investment in the NHS workforce over the past two years was good news. But the lack of willingness to look at technicians as a way of supporting OH nurses and doctors was more of a concern.
“There is still a far greater use of technicians within the private sector and NHS Plus is very keen to develop the role of OH technicians within the NHS. We believe there is huge scope for expansion,” he said.
“What this survey shows is that there is a real need for a debate about the direction of occupational medicine in the NHS. There is wide variation in the way that the OH workforce is constructed across the country,” he said.
The survey also highlighted sharp regional variations with, for example, more registered OH nurses generally employed within trusts on the south east coast compared with, say, the north east.
“This would suggest there is a greater richness within the workforce in some areas than others. But why that is or what is underpinning it is not clear,” said Johnston.
The intention now was for NHS Plus to commission further research to try to understand the different relationships between the different workforce models, he added.