With so few occupational health physicians operating in the UK there is a risk of the Health and Work Service struggling from the start.
The government’s proposed new Health and Work Service aimed at helping employees on long-term sick leave return to work through the provision of personal occupational health assessments has laudable aims, but a major risk to its effectiveness is a substantial lack of OH professionals to carry out the assessments and draw up the necessary return to work plans.
No one in the OH business that I speak to argues against the principle of a basic free-to-use service providing first line absence management advice (let’s be clear, this is an absence management service, not an occupational health service); but with only around 4,500 qualified OH advisers in the country and less than 1,000 OH physicians, there is a risk of this struggling from the start. To put the numbers into context, the UK has over 100,000 lawyers, about 60,000 GPs and about 50,000 physiotherapists. Occupational health advisers, are small fry by comparison and trying to take a few hundred of us away from our already busy schedules is going to have a huge impact on the provision of OH advice across the UK.
I also question the model of having just one service provider, since this risks creating a monopoly and handing them a huge competitive advantage. Instead, a network of locally available providers would be preferable, as it would allow genuine competition and innovation, leading to better quality and availability.
The OH market is growing and needs incentives to keep on doing so, not an attempt to take a massive chunk of available resource away from the companies that have been doing great work around OH for years.
Lindsey Hall is director of Split Dimension Occupational Health
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