June 2020: The UK government’s strategy for getting the UK workforce back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic
Just one in 12 OH professionals believe the Westminster government has done a good job in getting the UK workforce back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of our Tea-breaker poll. The poll asked: From an occupational health perspective, how do you rate the UK government’s strategy so far for getting the UK workforce back to work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
In total, 56% of respondents described the UK government’s strategy as poor, with only 8% saying it was good. Just over one-third (36%) of respondents felt the strategy was neither good nor poor. Of those practitioners who felt the government’s return-to-work strategy had been poor, there was a general view that the plan had lacked clarity, been too slow and had not made use of OH resources.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the August/September 2020 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
April 2020: Fit notes – 10 years on
On 6 April 2020, it was 10 years since the fit note replaced the sick note. Our Tea-breaker poll asked: Has the introduction of the fit note helped employees return to work more effectively (i.e. more quickly and/or more sustainably)?
Fewer than one in six OH professionals believe that the introduction of the fit note (aka the Statement of fitness for work) has been successful in helping employees return to work more quickly and/or more sustainably compared with the old-style sick note, our latest Tea-breaker poll reveals. The fit note was exactly 10 years old on 6 April 2020. The vast majority of respondents to our Tea-breaker poll described the fit note either as being ‘quite unsuccessful’ in helping employees return to work more effectively (41%) or ‘neither successful nor unsuccessful’ (35%). Advice provided on the fit note is frequently vague or ill informed, said some respondents, while others suggested that employers are not always willing to engage in a meaningful return-to-work process and took little notice of the GP’s advice, even where it was provided.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the April/May 2020 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
October 2019 Tea-breaker poll: Addressing the 24/7 work culture – does the UK need its own ‘Right to Disconnect’ law?
Our October Tea-breaker poll explored the idea of adopting a ‘Right to Disconnect’ law. We asked respondents if the UK should follow the lead of France by introducing a law to address the 24/7 work culture to allow workers the right to disconnect from electronic communications when not at work. The ‘right to disconnect’ is designed to improve work–life balance and address what the International Labour Organization (ILO) has characterised as a ‘blurring’ of the home–work interface.
The vast majority (83%) of respondents to the online survey agreed that legislation was needed with many commenting that employees frequently felt under pressure to be available out of hours and that the ‘on-call’ nature of work is damaging health. However, some participants were wary of the idea and recommended that more evidence was required before bringing in new legislation. One practitioner pointed out the difference between having a right to disconnect and being forced to do so – something that is reflected in the French legislation.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the December/January 2019/2020 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
June 2019 Tea-breaker poll: Fast-track treatment of NHS staff
Should the NHS develop more comprehensive rapid-access treatment and rehabilitation services for its own employees or would it be wrong to effectively prioritise its staff ahead of the needs of others (including key workers from other sectors)?
An overwhelming majority (85%) of respondents to our tea-breaker poll agreed that fast-track treatment of NHS staff was justified to help the NHS meet the demands placed on it. Just 12% disagreed with ‘fast-tracking’ and said all patients should be prioritised only according to clinical need (3% were unsure). Some respondents agreed with the proposal but argued that occupational health should be involved to ensure the system was fair and focused on facilitating return to work.
Background to poll: This question was topical as Health Education England now recommends that the NHS ‘endorse an approach which ensures rapid-access referral pathways for NHS learners and employees’. It also broaches the idea that NHS staff might access care at their own place of work rather than taking time out for treatment through their local NHS service.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the August/September 2019 issue of the journal.
April 2019 Tea-breaker poll: should there be compulsory upper-age limits for bus and lorry drivers?
More than half (55%) of OH professionals responding to our April Tea-breaker poll would support the introduction of upper-age limits for bus and lorry drivers, but others (36%) thought such a measure would discriminate unfairly and that there were better ways of ensuring fitness to drive (9% were undecided). The poll was carried out in response to the £2.3 million fine meted out to the bus operator Midland Red (South) following the deaths of two people when a bus driven by a 77-year-old man crashed into a Coventry supermarket in October 2015. The court heard that the driver had worked around 75 hours a week in the three weeks leading up to the crash and could have been suffering from dementia at the time of the incident.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the June/July 2019 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
December 2018 Tea-breaker poll: Should HSE inspectors carry out targeted inspections of employers’ mental health risk assessments?
Is it realistic for HSE inspectors to target employers’ mental health risk assessments for enforcement action* or is ‘work-related stress’ too difficult to disentangle from non-work influences, and a general duty to assess mental health risks impractical to enforce in all but the most extreme cases?
Two in five respondents (40%) to our latest poll said the HSE should carry out targeted inspections of employers’ mental health risk assessments. However, more than half (53%) of respondents disagreed, and said the general duty to carry out a work-related mental health risk assessment was too vague to enable enforcement action in all but the most extreme cases (7% were undecided). The Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers had urged the HSE to increase the focus on mental health during its inspections.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the February/March 2019 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
*As recommended in the 2017 Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers
October 2018 Tea-breaker poll: A healthier tomorrow?
In October 2018, it was 10 years since the publication of Dame Carol Black’s seminal review, Working for a healthier tomorrow, in which she made recommendations to help achieve a ‘new vision for health and work’. Her three principal objectives were: the prevention of illness and promotion of health and wellbeing; early intervention for those who develop a health condition; and an improvement in the health of those out of work – so that everyone with the potential to work has the support they need to do so.
Our October poll asked: Do you believe that progress has been made to achieve these objectives in the decade since 2008?
Less than half (41%) of the OH professionals responding to our poll believed that progress has been made to achieve the core objectives of Dame Carol Black’s review, Working for a healthier tomorrow. Only 4% of respondents said there had been significant progress, 37% said there had been a little progress and 29% said the situation was broadly the same as it was in 2008, when the report was published. However, 20% said that the situation had got slightly, and 10% significantly, worse than it was a decade ago. Austerity measures and pressure on the NHS were seen as barriers to meeting Black’s recommendations.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the December/January 2018/19 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
July 2018 Tea-breaker poll: Should obesity interventions be specifically targeted at healthcare workers because of their position – arguably – of influencing the health of the wider population?
A cross-sectional study based on the Health Survey for England found high levels of obesity across all healthcare occupational groups, including 25% prevalence among nurses. The study was based on 20,103 people aged 17 to 65 years.
Following on from this study, our poll asked OH professionals about tackling obesity in healthcare workers. Seven out of 10 OH professionals agree that obesity interventions should be targeted at healthcare workers, on grounds that overweight and obesity among such professionals sends the wrong message, countering efforts to tackle these problems in the wider population, the results of our latest Tea-breaker poll reveal. However, some respondents point out that factors related to healthcare work – including shiftwork, stress and lack of opportunities to exercise and eat healthily – are themselves risk factors for being overweight and obese, and should also be addressed.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the August/September 2018 issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
May 2018 Tea breaker poll: how prepared are you for the GDPR?
As an OH professional, how prepared are you for the GDPR?
The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force on 25 May and has important implications for OH practice, but many OH professionals are still unprepared for the far-reaching legislation, as our April Tea-breaker poll found. The online survey, carried out between 12 and 26 April, asked: as an OH professional, how prepared are you/your OH service for its implementation? Only two in five OH professionals (39%) said they, or their OH service were prepared for the GDPR. The majority were either unprepared (37%) or neither prepared nor unprepared (24%). Chief concerns included what to do with historic OH records, consent, and the need for the encryption of emails.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results in the June/July issue of Occupational Health [at Work].
March 2018 Tea breaker poll: HSE and guidance on appropriate levels of OH provision
Should the HSE produce guidance on recommended levels of OH provision (which could be in-house or outsourced) for all industry sectors?
An overwhelming majority of OH professionals (82%) believe that the HSE should produce industry guidance on the appropriate level of OH provision to meet health and safety (H&S) duties, results of our March Tea-breaker poll revealed. Just 16% said organisations should be able to assess the risks and the resources needed to manage them (2% don’t know/undecided). The poll follows the prosecution of private hospital group Ramsay Health Care UK for failing to engage sufficient numbers of competent OH professionals to meet its duties under H&S law. The HSE compared the company’s actual OH provision against that recommended in guidance for the healthcare sector by the Association of NHS Occupational Physicians, and found it severely lacking.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the detailed poll results and response from the HSE in the April/May edition of Occupational Health [at Work].
January 2018 Tea-breaker poll: satisfying human resources
Do you consider that the human resources professionals you work with are generally satisfied or dissatisfied with the quality and content of the reports they receive from occupational health?
Our January 2018 tea-breaker asked OH professionals if the HR professionals they work with are generally satisfied or dissatisfied with the quality and content of the reports they receive from occupational health. While most respondents (58%) said HR was satisfied with the quality and content of OH reports, 22% felt that HR was dissatisfied (20% neither satisfied nor dissatisfied). A lack of understanding by HR of the role and ethical responsibilities of OH was a common concern, while some respondents felt that better management referrals could help OH meet the expectations of HR. HR expecting OH to ‘medicalise’ management issues was another theme, while one OH professional highlighted the need to provide objective opinion to HR rather than simply ‘regurgitating’ what the employee had told them.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the news item in the February/March 2018 issue for more information.
Oct 2017 Tea-breaker poll: consent and confidentiality
Do you consider that rules (ie data protection laws and professional ethics) concerning confidentiality and consent are so restrictive that they can prevent you doing a good job in occupational health, in terms of advising managers/HR on how to manage employees with ill-health conditions?
Our October/November 2017 tea-breaker poll asked if the rules governing confidentiality and consent are so restrictive that they can prevent OH practitioners doing a good job in terms of advising managers/HR on how to manage employees with ill-health conditions.
A majority of respondents (60.5%) agreed that ‘the rules strike the right balance between the needs of the employee and those of the employer and never/rarely prevent me providing sufficient advice to managers’. However, nearly two in five respondents (37%) felt that ‘the rules are so strict that I sometimes/often cannot provide adequate advice to help the employer manage cases’. Just 3.5% of respondents felt that the rules were not tight enough.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the news item in the“December/January 2017/18 issue for more information.
June 2017 Tea-breaker poll: Should the occupational health specialty be fully integrated into the NHS?
More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents to our June/July Tea-breaker poll said the occupational health speciality should not become fully integrated into the NHS. Just one in five respondents (20%) were in favour of integration (3% were unsure).
The online poll followed the publication of an editorial in the BMJ by occupational physicians Ian Torrance and Faculty of Occupational Medicine president Richard Heron who argued that OH should be integrated into NHS care systems1. But occupational physician Paul J Nicholson, also writing in the BMJ, responded that integrating the specialty into the NHS would not resolve the current uneven access to comprehensive OH faced by the UK workforce2. Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the news item in the August/September issue for more information.
April 2017 Tea-breaker poll: Should other healthcare workers – as well as doctors – be able to certify fit notes?
In this tea-breaker poll, we asked if the responsibility to certify fit notes should be broadened to include other healthcare professionals as well as doctors. This follows publication of the (now closed) government consultation Work, health and disability green paper: improving lives on work and health, which suggested reviewing which healthcare professionals could certify fit notes.
Almost two-thirds of respondents (63%) to our April Tea-breaker poll believed that a range of healthcare professionals should be allowed to complete fit notes, as proposed in the government’s Work, health and disability green paper. However, one in five respondents (20%) said that the certification should remain the exclusive responsibility of doctors, while 17% were undecided. Survey respondents variously suggested that fit notes could be signed by OH physicians, OH nurses, physiotherapists, counsellors, dentists, midwives, GP practice nurses, mental health nurses, and allied health professionals working in primary care. The online poll was conducted in April 2017.
Subscribers to Occupational Health [at Work] can read the news item in the June/July issue for more information.