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Written Statement - NHS Wales Occupational Health Services

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Lesley Griffiths, Minister for Health and Social Services 

Together for Health, the five year vision for NHS Wales, recognises all NHS staff have a vital role in creating safe and effective care for the people of Wales and in shaping the future of our health services.  Earlier this year, I launched Working Differently – Working Together, a strategic workforce and organisational development framework, to secure the right staff and to fully support and engage them in delivering excellent care. This includes promoting the health and wellbeing of staff through a range of work based initiatives. 

There is good evidence of a link between staff health and wellbeing and the performance of health services, with good health and wellbeing of staff linked with improved patient safety, satisfaction and effectiveness of care.  There is also clear evidence of a link between lifestyle factors and sickness absence.  For example, smokers have been reported to have a higher chance of being absent from work than a non-smoker, and are off work for longer.  There is, therefore, a compelling organisational and wider public health case for the NHS to lead by example, by improving the health and wellbeing of its staff.

There have been significant developments in improving health and wellbeing policies and services for NHS staff.  Sickness absence has reduced, 6 of the 7 Local Health Boards and 1 of the 3 Trusts have achieved the Corporate Health Standard at Gold Level, our national quality mark for health and wellbeing in the workplace, and individual initiatives such as Cwm Taf Health Board’s Worksure Scheme, represent best employment practice.  However, I recognise more needs to be done to improve the health and wellbeing of NHS staff, particularly those in primary care who have more limited access to occupational health services.

A group, chaired by Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, has reviewed the evidence on improving employee health and wellbeing and looked at the provision of occupational health services in NHS Wales.  They identified variation in occupational health services between NHS organisations and further scope to improve the health and wellbeing of NHS staff, lower sickness absence rates and generate net returns from investing in such services. Recommendations included:

  • Modernising the current approach to occupational health, equipping NHS services to meet contemporary health issues in the workplace with a focus on ill health prevention and health improvement;
  • Optimising current occupational health capacity to make best use of limited specialist resources;
  • Making better use of ICT and telephone support services;
  • Improving support to health professionals and, in particular, primary care practitioners as there is evidence health professionals deal with their ill health and access support in a different way to the general population;
  • Improving the profile of occupational health and making a career in this area more attractive.

In considering these recommendations and other advice I have received on NHS occupational health services, I have instructed:

  • The occupational health services of the Local Health Boards and Trusts should, in future, work as a network to enable better management of existing resources;
  • The remit of Local Health Board occupational health services should be extended to cover primary care.  This would reflect the integrated primary/secondary care basis of Local Health Boards;
  • A Health for Health Professionals service should be established with a staged introduction of provision from October 2012. This new clinician led confidential service, which would include referral out of area if necessary, would have a full year budget of £163,400;  
  • An NHS Wales Health, Work and Well-being Framework is to be developed, with clear indicators for Local Health Boards and Trusts to achieve. I expect Local Health Boards and Trusts would report annually on their progress against the Framework.

I have asked my officials to meet urgently with the Local Health Boards and Trusts to ensure planning for the new arrangements is put in place.