Shortlisted team for Occupational Health Award for Managing Employee Health: Personnel Today Awards 2000.
A holistic approach to the well-being of the organisation set Sandwell Healthcare NHS Trust on the path to integrating occupational health, safety and welfare.
While this is not a new concept for the private sector, an audit of NHS organisations in the Midlands indicated that it is rarely the situation with trusts.
The process of integrating these disciplines has taken two years and has ensured that there is a co-ordinated approach to employee wellbeing. It has also helped persuade management that investment in this area will have long-term financial benefits.
The OHS unit is led by consultant occupational physician Dr Peter Verow. He has headed an occupational health team that has grown from five people in 1990 to 25 in 2000 and has encouraged team working to ensure the disciplines of health, safety and welfare are being co-ordinated in the most effective way.
By working closely with the Public Health Department of Sandwell Health Authority, the OHS has secured funding to develop a number of new initiatives.
These include: a borough-wide occupational health service, called Workwell – the first OHS in the country for GP and dentist practices; a DoH Back in Work project; and an HSE-funded research programme on stress intervention in the NHS.
The trust has developed a range of measures to support employees, including a rehabilitation policy which offers physiotherapy, psychology, chiropody, aromatherapy and exercise services, health promotion days, a Passport to Leisure scheme and stress management programmes.
Employee feedback has been excellent: a recent staff survey showed 78 per cent think the occupational health department is doing a good job.
To persuade senior management of the case for developing proactive intervention strategies, the trust has focused on data-collection to highlight the biggest problems they face and to monitor and evaluate the success of their strategies for dealing with them.
Data is regularly collected on a wide range of topics including: sickness absence; reports outlining the number, type and severity of accidents and near misses; reports on reasons for referrals to the occupational health and psychology service; and reasons why employees have left employment for medical reasons or were retired on health grounds.
Verow points out that it is very difficult to measure the financial success of a preventive service such as occupational health and that many trusts can’t measure the baseline data that reflects employee wellbeing.
Sandwell has put a lot of effort into collecting this data and is now able to start measuring the effectiveness of its strategies.
Company fact file
Team Sandwell Healthcare NHS Trust
Team leader Dr Peter Verow, consultant occpational physician
Number in HR team 25
Number of employees responsible for 3,600
Main achievements The instigation of an integrated occupational health, safety and welfare system for the trust, the introduction of the Workwell project; setting up an occupational health service for GPs and dentists
Priorities for next 12 months A number of specific targets including the introduction of revised health and safety incident reporting systems, revising the manual handling system and providing more intervention to support the management of workplace back pain, supporting the HR department with initiatives aimed at reducing sickness absence levels
Judges’ Comment "An exciting and holistic approach to attendance management. The team radiates enthusiasm and commitment. We were particularly impressed by the way the coordinator had involved all key players in the trust. A wonderful example of excellent leadership coupled with clearly defined strategies"