The Association of Occupational Health and Wellbeing Professionals​

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The key drivers for education and training in Occupational Health and Wellbeing!

By Janet O'Neill, iOH Director of Professional Development

Published 5 April 2023

  • Diminished OH workforce

  • Cost of ill health

  • Wellbeing

  • Increased profile

  • Expanded remit and workload

The spring budget demonstrates the Government’s commitment to workers’ health with a focus on Occupational Health (OH) (FOMSOM 2023). For this to become reality, we need skilled OH professionals! But what are the drivers for this unprecedented focus and how do we meet demand? Training and educating clinical professionals in OH will be key and is something the National School of Occupational Health (NSOH) is working strategically to support.

There are just not enough OH professionals:

  • OH, has been a shrinking speciality (DWP 2019) for some years now.
  • OH, not being part of the NHS, is funded by employers as opposed to the government (compared to all other healthcare), therefore falls outside of the usual pathways of training in many cases.
  • OH is not part of the general Doctor, Nurse and AHP (e.g. physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy) undergraduate education and consequently, awareness as a potential career option is small.

The rise of sickness absence to 2.2% (ONS 2022), the highest since 2010 and costing Britain over £9 billion/year (SOM 2022), coupled with a skills shortage (Chamber of Commerce 2022) are adding to an economic crisis affecting us all. It is, for this reason, the Spring Budget placed OH expertise at the forefront of a recovery program.

There is a moral duty to reduce health inequalities (Marmot review 2020) and support those who become ill. Covid highlighted the need for a more equitable society, building on support for those with differing abilities to access and remain in work (DWP 2016). Focussing attention on the need for a healthy and safe work environment for all individuals, including those with health conditions. It is well documented that the chance of worklessness after a year of absence is high and that work itself is a health outcome (CWH 2019) which is where trained and skilled OH professionals come in.

Wellbeing (WB) especially mental wellbeing, at work is top of the list within the media. OH became synonymous with wellbeing following the Boorman review of 2009 and especially since the pandemic – with many people calling us OH&WB since the advent of the NHS Growing OH&WH program, with whom the school is working closely, especially on the topic of training and education. Workplace wellbeing is here to stay and OH have the knowledge, skills and competencies to deliver evidence-based programs (SOM 2019), therefore no education and training strategy could be without this.

The OH profile is increasing. We know Covid escalated the need to retain and support employees in very difficult circumstances and OH proved to be crucial, even seen as a frontline clinical function for the NHS. Significant amounts of money were saved by OH, up to £50 million for one private manufacturer, as was reported at a recent conference.

The OH remit is changing and expanding. OH has been especially good at innovation with most OH organisations out there working differently or having developed a new service during the pandemic. The downside being workload increased by more than 50% for OH (NHS).

It is no wonder the government has a vested interest in OH and getting it right. Starting with identifying the right clinicians and supporting their skill development i.e., education and training. It is for this reason, the NSOH has been leading a task-and-finish project with the Work and Health Unit (WHU), focusing first on training and education within OH.

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