The continuing shortage of qualified occupational health physicians and nurses poses “a potential large threat to the future of OH provision”, a report for the government’s Work and Health Unit has concluded.
The report, Understanding the provision of occupational health and work-related musculoskeletal services, found ongoing shortages had led to unfilled roles for more than two-fifths of OH providers. This, it added, suggested “that a potential large threat to the future of OH provision is the reduction of qualified OH physicians and nurses in recent years.”
Providers reported they were most likely to have vacancies in the most specialised roles and that these were the hardest to recruit for, particularly specialist OH nurses. “There was also a gap between the number of fully-funded training posts available and the number that had been filled,” it added.
The Work and Health Unit is a cross-departmental unit working between the Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Health and Social Care, and is leading on the development of government’s workplace health Green Paper.
This latest document is expected to feed into that paper, and some of the work the unit was doing in this area was highlighted by Dr Bola Akinwale, head of strategic research and analysis at the Work and Health Unit, at the Health and Wellbeing @ Work show in Birmingham in March.
The research document also concluded that cost-cutting and outsourcing by employers over the past two decades had led to a dwindling of OH expertise.
“One expert suggested that specialist training within private OH provision was rare, and that they [employers] instead ‘poach’ NHS trained staff,” the report highlighted.
“While the majority of private and NHS OH providers reported having access to funding for training of staff, the fact that NHS OH departments were notably more likely to provide training… and that the most common previous employment of staff being NHS-based… somewhat corroborates this,” it added.
OH providers generally had limited need to use marketing to attract their customers, the report also highlighted. “Targeted marketing to specific sectors was rare, and a substantial proportion of OH providers did no form of marketing at all… This may be because most OH providers are small-scale businesses, reliant on subcontracting some of their workforce requirements, with limited desire to attract new customers,” it said.