Lukewarm welcome for occupational health advisory services
1 February 2013
A government pledge to set up a new occupational health advisory service does not go far enough, doctors leaders say.
In response to recommendations in the November 2011 report Health at Work: an Independent Review of Sickness Absence the government announced it would set up a new health and work assessment and advisory service in England for people who have been off work for more than four weeks owing to illness.
The service would provide an in-depth assessment of the physical and mental functions of the person off sick and advise how he or she could be supported back to work. The government response, published last week, estimates it would take between 330 and 740 occupational health professionals and up to 10 physicians specialising in occupational health or vocational rehabilitation to deliver the service.
Welfare reform minister Lord Freud said the scheme would save employers £160m in statutory sick pay every year and boost economic output by £900m.
Universal access needed
However, BMA occupational medicine committee chair Paul Nicholson said: ‘While a step in the right direction, the proposal falls far short of BMA policy … The BMA believes that all employees must have access to specialist-led occupational health services.
‘The recommendations accepted in the government response simply seek to provide access to those who are off work due to sickness absence.’
Doctors at the 2008 BMA annual representative meeting in Edinburgh agreed it was a ‘national disgrace that only a small proportion of the workforce had access to a doctor trained in occupational medicine’.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine and Society of Occupational Medicine jointly welcomed news of the scheme.
The government also said pilots of occupational health advice services will be funded for an extra year to March 31, 2014.
In its response to the independent sickness absence review in July 2011, the OMC pointed out that only one in seven UK workers had access to comprehensive occupational health support and only 12 to 14 per cent had access to an occupational physician.