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NHS staff to have better occupational healthcare

Recommendations to ensure staff can access quick, confidential healthcare

OnMedica staff

Friday, 05 March 2010

New guidelines published today will help clinicians with health problems to gain access to help quickly, without fear or stigma.

Invisible Patients recognises that there are higher rates of depression, anxiety and substance misuse in health professionals than among other groups of workers, because of their heavy workloads and the emotional demands of treating patients. The report says that sometimes these problems are overlooked; or when they are noticed, often the individual needs of the practitioner patient are not met.

Invisible Patients sets out how organisations can ensure that they support their workforce and build healthy workplaces for clinical professionals. It identifies the need for healthcare organisations and individual practitioners to prevent and manage ill health, and for specialist services to be created to treat those small numbers of sick health professionals.

The report says that current levels of sickness absence in the NHS amount to 10 million lost days – the equivalent of 4.5% of the entire workforce – costing the NHS about £1.7 billion. But ‘presenteeism’ – coming to work and performing at less than full capacity because of ill health – has been estimated to cost one and a half times as much.

Seven recommendations that seek to improve the health of health professionals are:

  • Prompt access to GPs and occupational physicians with enhanced skills and to confidential specialist assessment/treatment services
  • Occupational health services should be strengthened and accredited with appropriately trained staff and adequate funding
  • Maintaining good health, and how to cope with ill health, should become an integral component of the undergraduate and postgraduate curriculum for all professional groups
  • A review should be undertaken of how health information about sick health professionals could be shared between organisations and managed appropriately to ensure continuing care
  • The nine health profession regulators should consider how they might adopt a consistent approach in relation to health and to fitness to practise
  • Procedures for revalidation of each health professional should set out clearly how concerns about how health matters should be handled when these may impact on impact on fitness to practise
  • Long-term studies should be carried out to look at the health and well-being of different groups of health professionals in different health care settings.

Professor Alastair Scotland, chair of the Health of Health Professionals’ Working Group, which produced this report, explained: “Health professionals are often reluctant or find it difficult to seek help for their health problems. This is often because they feel they are letting their patients and colleagues down, or because of practical reasons such as workload or even fear of being stigmatised.

“Ill health in clinicians and health professionals may remain hidden, leading to worsening of their condition and even to possible adverse effects on the quality of care provided to their patients.”

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