Occupational health doctors today welcomed the government's response to the first ever review into the health of the working age population – Working for a Healthier Tomorrow.
Many workers currently have no, or very limited, access to occupational health services. Indeed, those workers in jobs with the highest risk of work-related injuries and illness often have the worst access to workplace health care. The Faculty and Society of Occupational Medicine believes that the initiatives outlined in today's announcement are a crucial step in addressing this inequality.
For most people, work is a key factor in their self-worth, family esteem and identity – yet, too many people are not helped quickly enough when they become sick and find themselves on a downward spiral into long-term sickness and a life on benefits.
"The fact that for most people work is good for them has for a long time been overlooked" said Dr Tony Stevens, President of the Society of Occupational Medicine. "The positive links between work and health need to be recognised by all. Too many people are still told that they can't work, when with specialist occupational health support they can. The Society of Occupational Medicine is delighted that this government has sought to redress this and promote the health benefits of employment to the entire population."
Helping people with health problems stay in work is not just about medical treatment; it is much more complex and sometimes needs expert help. In some difficult cases, GPs will need the ability to refer on to specialist occupational health consultants and other expert professionals.
For this purpose, the review recommended that "Fit for Work" services be developed and piloted. It is good that government has agreed to pursue this proposal, and particularly that it appreciates the need for rigorous evaluation. We need to ensure that any interventions are carefully evaluated and audited. We believe that specialist occupational health doctors are uniquely well placed to lead services of this sort.
"The government is moving in the right direction on this," said Professor David Coggon, President of the Faculty of Occupations Medicine. "We particularly applaud their commitment to working in partnership with health professionals, employers and other stakeholders. It is now up to all of us who work in occupational health to ensure that we build on the opportunities presented."