The reduction in qualified Occupational Health (OH) physicians and nurses in recent years poses a potential large threat to the future of OH provision, found a recent IFF Research study on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Occupational Health is defined as: “advisory and support services which help to maintain and promote employee health and wellbeing”. With two-fifths of OH providers reporting unfilled roles, and the important part OH plays on worker wellbeing, this finding is concerning for employers and workers alike.

Providers reported that they were most likely to have vacancies in the most specialised roles which are the hardest to recruit for; particularly nurses with an OH specialism. Where historically major employers provided a key source of specialist OH doctors – by recruiting GPs and training them to meet their business’s needs – cost-cutting over the past 20 years has led to a reduction in those practices, with increased outsourcing. As a result,  the pool of UK OH expertise is perceived to be dwindling.

With regards to motivations to seeking OH services, experts and OH providers believe that employers and individuals are most commonly motivated to seek OH support by obligation; reacting to issues affecting the business, such as legal compliance, or reducing sickness absence, rather than aspiration. Improvements to productivity, health and wellbeing tend to be secondary motivations.

The research included in-depth expert interviews, a literature review, qualitative case studies and telephone surveys with OH providers, private and NHS providers that sell OH services and Clinical Commissioning Groups. It aimed to review the provision of OH services across the UK by examining:

  • The available models of private and NHS service provision; how these are commissioned, resourced and accessed;
  • The workforce of private and NHS providers;
  • The commissioning of work-related musculoskeletal services and work-related NHS services.

The findings will help inform future policy development into the reform of OH. The full report and findings can be accessed here.

For more information about our health and wellbeing research, or to discuss conducting your own, contact Lorna Adams.