Wales: Improving Access To Occupational Health Services

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Plans to improve access to occupational health services in Wales to help tackle absenteeism and ill-health in the workplace are be announced by Health Minister Edwina Hart.

The economic cost of sickness and absenteeism among the working age population is over £100 billion a year in the UK, while work-related ill health costs the Welsh economy more than £500 million per year.

Occupational health services play a key role in preventing ill health at work and providing support to retain people in employment, but relatively few employees in Wales currently have access to comprehensive services.

The One Wales programme included a commitment to explore proposals to place occupational health services on a statutory basis.

Mrs Hart will today publish a report from a group, led by Professor Mansel Aylward, chair of the Wales Centre for Health, which was set up to consider the commitment.

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The report includes a recommendation that a national occupational health service should be provided by the NHS and made viable by contributions from employers.

Accepting the report, Edwina Hart said: "Ill-health and absenteeism not only affects employees in terms of creating barriers to employment, loss of financial independence and self-esteem, but also costs employers in terms of sickness absence and replacement of staff.

"This report looks at the possibility of introducing a national occupational health service that employees and employers can tap into to help bring about improvements in health and reduce the physical and financial loss caused by work-related ill health, injury and sickness absence."

Professor Aylward said: "We considered occupational health in its widest context and the group recommended taking an integrated approach to developing contemporary occupational health services that build on the current direction of travel in Wales.

"Occupational health aims to maximise the health gains of being in work, ensures a safe environment for work and removes barriers to allow people to realise their potential at work.

"There is no one solution that will meet the occupational health support needs of everyone, flexibility is the key to delivery."

Prof Aylward will now convene an expert group, including employee and employer representatives, to develop the recommendations into a more detailed proposal for consideration by Ministers.

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