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Occupational Health – Planning The Future

Good work is good for health, good for business and good for national prosperity.”

This by-line from a report by the Council for Work and Health perfectly sums up why occupational health needs to become an integrated part of health provision in the UK. The report was drawn up in response to demographic changes allied with the need for employers to improve productivity and efficiency levels. With that in mind, the report’s authors aimed not only to create a vision for occupational health practice but also to identify the level of healthcare training required to deliver the vision into practice.

The Council for Work and Health aims to provide a coordinated voice for all of the professionals who work in the occupational health field. Formed in 2008 its projects include the provision of advice and guidance for employers as well as training for occupational health practitioners and allied health professionals.

 This latest report entitled ‘Planning the future: Implications for occupational health; delivery and training’ came up with six key recommendations which were aimed at ensuring that occupational health not only meets the needs of the working population but also provides an early intervention mechanism. These recommendations are:

  • to integrate occupational health into mainstream healthcare provision in order to provide a greater level of holistic patient care
  • the creation of government incentives to encourage investment in healthy workplaces, perhaps by removing the tax liability for occupational health and well-being interventions
  • to boost the visibility of occupational health within the workplace by providing employers with access to relevant professional help and by promoting the return on investment in occupational health
  • to develop competency frameworks within a multiagency approach in order to boost the skill levels of those working within the operational health field
  • to develop models both to facilitate workplace health planning and to predict the match between requirement and supply
  • to attract and train professionals to meet expected needs

In recent years businesses have moved away from seeing their employees as necessary costs, nowadays recognising their people as the most valuable asset which a business can have. In tandem with this, occupational health is increasingly being seen as a valuable aid to employee well-being.

Whilst some businesses may employ dedicated occupational health teams, the opportunity exists for health practitioners such as physiotherapists and osteopaths to have more flexible arrangements with business. This may include the provision of general advice, being called in on an as needed basis or providing ongoing support to members of the team who have particular health needs.

Other health professionals such as counsellors may also be called on an as required basis. For example, those drawing up business continuity, or risk management, plans are increasingly taking account of the effects of disasters on their employees’ mental well-being. Providing access to counselling can make a measurable difference in helping employees to return to ‘work as usual’ following an event.

We live in a time in which NHS resources are stretched. In business too, low productivity levels are causing concern leading to a constant demand to do more with the resources which we have. In addition, the rise in retirement age is increasingly going to require businesses to work with their employees in order to help people to continue to carry out their duties as they move towards later retirement. All these factors and more place an increasing focus on the role of occupational health professionals. As Professor John Harrison said “It could be argued that there has never been a more important time for occupational health as a key contributor to the health and wellbeing of working age people.”

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