Occupational health should be free to all at the point of delivery through the NHS and occupational health physicians should take clinical leadership on how it is developed, according to the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM).
Dr Gordon Parker, president of SOM, said OH doctors should lead the fit-for-work teams recommended by national director for health and work, Dame Carol Black, in her review of the health of working age people.
“I suggest we make a strong case for OH physicians to give the clinical strategy lead, not particularly in the hands-on sense of managing the service which can be done by others,” said Parker.
He described the leadership of the new fit-for-work teams as “our territory” and said the society would be supporting the pilots for the scheme.
Parker welcomed OH nurses with expertise, experience and qualifications as colleagues in the service and called for more collaboration between nurses and doctors. “We need to help OH nurses with their educational aims and we need to share conferences like this one,” he said.
Parker said the key to the success of the service would be the interface between occupational health physicians and GPs.
“A national OH service commissioned by Primary Care Trusts and delivered by us is not likely so we need to work on the GP-OH interface,” Parker said. “I think that GP understanding of OH has improved dramatically in recent years,” he added.
GPs have shifted their attitude from talking of a patient as ‘my patient’ to sharing responsibility between the patient, the employer and occupational health, Parker said. However, he acknowledged that OH physicians “still lack credibility with GPs who don’t see the value in communicating with us properly”.
Parker argued that GPs and hospital consultants with an interest in occupational medicine should look to the SOM for education and leadership. “The natural home for all doctors with an interest in OH is the society, not the Royal College of General Practitioners,” he said.
He advised that the SOM should work on all educational projects related to occupational medicine and draw GPs into all its meetings.