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If occupational health is to maximise the spotlight it has been placed under during the Covid-19 pandemic, it has to learn to use technology better, persuade government to put in place more incentives for investment, scale up training provision, and be much more proactive about promoting the value of OH to employers and individuals, a leading practitioner has argued.
In a paper for SOM (the Society of Occupational Medicine), OH physician and consultant Dr Sheetal Chavda has argued the profession faces five key “scale-up challenges” if access to OH is ever to be expanded to a wider working population in the UK.
The paper comes as the profession is expecting a Green Paper from the government over the next few months outlining a range of key reforms to workplace health support and provision.
The paper, Scale up of OH Services, has argued that, first, OH providers and clinicians need to get much better at using technology to deliver services, including making better use of video consultations and online wellbeing coaching.
Second, it has urged the government to do more to support OH. This could include innovation grants to encourage investment, tax incentives on health-related benefits and the creation of a ‘centre for work and health’ to develop the profession’s evidence base. It also recommended better co-ordination between the devolved countries and Westminster, and more work to promote to employers the value of having OH clinicians in senior roles.
When it came to investment, there needed to be a conversation around how to ensure the profession has adequate resources in the medium to long term as well as short-term cash injections and incentives, Dr Chavda emphasised.
Third, the paper has argued there needs to be more co-ordination of, investment in and focus on the training of OH professionals, both by government and industry.
This needed to include OH being incorporated into undergraduate medical and nursing curriculums, more postgraduate OH training of clinicians, and more training posts being established in the NHS, military and commercial sectors. In-house and outsourced OH providers could also be encouraged to offer more training and training posts.
The fourth challenge as outlined in the paper is the need to improve the understanding of OH and what the specialty can bring to the table among professionals, employers and the public.
Alongside this, and the fifth and final scale-up challenge, was the need for new pricing models for OH, argued Dr Chavda. This in particular would be helpful in terms of improving access to OH among small and medium-sized businesses but also more widely.
“Occupational health has contributed to health and safety at work, improved productivity, and prevention of disablement. Longer lives are one of society’s greatest achievements and we should take pride in occupational health’s contribution to this,” said Dr Chavda.
But too many people still spent too much of their later life in often preventable poor health or disability, which forced them to drop out of work prematurely, she suggested.
“There are also huge inequalities in healthy and disability-free life expectancy across the country. Their impact, certainly in the workplace, can be minimised with the right occupational health intervention and support,” Dr Chavda added.
The full paper can be found here.