Make universal access to occupational health a reality following Covid-19, urges SOM

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SOM, the Society of Occupational Medicine, has called on the government and others to “act swiftly” to ensure occupational health support is made universally accessible and that workplaces are safe when people return in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

SOM claimed around half of the UK population has no access to occupational health advice and assessment. There therefore needed to be a mixed economy model of provision at a local level, one split between NHS-provided OH support and provision delivered by commercial OH providers.

In particular, SOM’s campaign, which has received support from the British Medical Association, is asking for Health Education England and its equivalents in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to invest in the training of OH professionals, including occupational medicine trainees and OH nurses.

There also needed to be investment in expert OH advice within government, SOM said, while a national OH data-set should be established.

The society said UK Research and Innovation, the body that awards funding in scientific research, should fund a research-led ‘Centre for Health and Work’ to help translate evidence into policy.

Finally, it called on the Treasury to put in place extra tax breaks for employers to act as an incentive for them to invest in occupational health support for their employees.

Last year, the government’s Health is everyone’s business consultation sought evidence on whether there was a case for financial support for employers to invest in OH, among other potential actions to expand OH access, such as new commercial models or a co-funding scheme. The consultation closed last year and the government has not yet published its response.

Separately, researchers at the universities of Keele, Southampton, Birmingham, Aston and King’s College London are conducting research into whether access to an OH service via GP surgeries would be practical and useful.

SOM is asking members to write to their MPs about making access to occupational health available to more workers.

The letter template reads: “There is a strong economic case to implement universal access to occupational health for all employers. Occupational health services are key in supporting employees back to work and keeping them in work safely during these challenging times.

“Small and medium enterprises and the self-employed will need support to ensure there is a safe work environment, with a focus on mentally healthy workplaces. Early research shows that many returning to work during the Covid-19 crisis will return with depleted mental health. Occupational health services have been proven to enable those on sick leave due to mental health problems to return to work successfully. Preventative measures in place through the application of occupational hygiene is also critical.

“There is an opportunity now to positively influence the health and wellbeing of the working population and the prosperity of the nation. By investing in universal access to occupational health the government can support employers to safeguard their workforce and manage any risks that are likely to cause work-related ill health.”

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