A new vision for public health unveiled by the Government could in time lead to occupational health practitioners having a much more public-health-focused role within the workplace.
The Healthy Lives, Healthy People White Paper published by the Department of Health in December argued that employers had a central role to play in encouraging better public health.
Health at Work will be one of five “networks” set up in early 2011 as part of a new “Public Health Responsibility Deal”, with the other four being food, alcohol, physical activity and behaviour change.
There will also be documents published on mental health, tobacco control, obesity, sexual health, pandemic flu preparedness, health protection and emergency preparedness.
Local public health directors will be moved out of the NHS and into local government and a new “professional public health service” – Public Health England – will be set up as part of the Department of Health from 2012.
In a positive hint about their future, the paper highlighted the ongoing Fit for Work pilots, pointing out that their results will become known by late 2011, which will in turn enable ministers “to determine what works and in what circumstances”.
Work would continue, too, to embed the fit note electronically within GP surgeries.
“We are also examining the incentives in the sickness absence system, with a view to reducing the numbers who fall out of work due to health conditions,” the paper added.
It highlighted the Faculty of Occupational Medicine’s new OH accreditation process (see story below), arguing that employers would be encouraged only to contract with fully accredited services.
The Department of Health would encourage employers to improve health outcomes “through establishing a strong cultural lead, strengthening management training in recognising and responding to the health needs of the workforce, and working more closely with others, particularly occupational health and primary care”.
But Stephen Overell, associate director – policy at think-tank The Work Foundation said the Government could have gone further in making the link between access to OH and having a healthy, productive workforce.
“Beyond initiatives such as Fit for Work, it would be good to see more emphasis on how work and work organisation can support public wellbeing policy and how occupational health can be enhanced,” he said.