A survey of GP practices showed they are not practising what they preach when it comes to health and safety. By Tammie Daly and Penny Shuttleworth
Like NHS employees, GPs and their practice staff are exposed to occupational hazards on a daily basis: ranging from mercury spillage to needlestick injuries, from hepatitis B to disease organisms carried by sick patients.
But a survey carried out by Nottingham Occupational Health highlights a lack of awareness and commitment surrounding health and safety issues. Nurse specialist researchers reported that in terms of risk management, GP practices "could do better". For example, only 12 per cent of practices which responded to the survey had done a COSHH assessment and none had addressed the issue of tuberculosis or rubella immunisations.
Since the formation of Primary Care Groups, GPs need better access to occupational health services. Nottingham Occupational Health was funded to research the dangers that GPs and their staff are exposed to at work and look at how the practices comply with current health and safety legislation and NHS management executive directives.
The study highlighted the areas of occupational health care from which GPs and their staff could benefit and the importance of OH nurses making the most of this need.
Nottingham Health Authority and the Local Medical Committee offered all GP practices in the Nottingham area a free visit by Nottingham Occupational Health to give assistance and advice on health and safety issues.
The visits were conducted as a broad health and safety assessment which would be non-threatening and non-invasive to gain the support of GPs and their staff. Information on specific policies and procedures - for example, alcohol, stress, and sickness absence was not included. Nurse specialists followed up each visit with an individual report for each surgery including guidelines on good practice.
Of the 116 GP practices approached, 51 per cent responded. A postal questionnaire was sent to the 57 non-responding practices to ascertain why the offer had been declined and 60 per cent replied. Of these, 11 per cent assumed that health and safety was not their responsibility because they were based in health authority-owned premises, 11 per cent stated lack of time as the reason, 35 per cent had overlooked the letter of invitation, 20 per cent