The Government rightly considers that small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) need support to access occupational health (OH) advice. SMEs are a vital part of the national economy and account for around 60% of the employment and around 50% of the turnover in the UK private sector.
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) is looking to give SMEs support to purchase occupational health services. It is anticipated that any OH provider involved in a support scheme will need to meet quality criteria, but we currently do not know what these will be, how they will be assessed or who will do the assessment.
Workplace Wellness is a small provider of OH services in the Southwest of England and specialises in providing services to SMEs. Workplace Wellness has insight into the needs and requirements of SMEs and how to give a tailored OH service that answers the questions put by management in a professional and independent manner whilst listening to, and communicating clearly with, referred employees. Our advice is responsive to new challenges as they develop, such as Long Covid and employee stress arising from the cost of living crisis. We also deliver any mandatory examinations required by law.
In our experience an OH provider needs to be familiar with the specific hazards, risks, control processes for each SME before providing an OH service to the client. This is likely to include inspection of the workplace to acquire full working knowledge of the business and specific working environments. Presence on the shopfloor is greatly appreciated by management and adds credibility to opinions given about work practices to employees. Without this prior knowledge, an OH service risks becoming formulaic, a tick-box process with little added value to the client.
The cost to the client has to reflect the acquisition of this frontloaded information, so Workplace Wellness charges may be higher than some in the more generic OH sector. We have proof that the service provided is perceived to be of value by clients through continuing return business as well as acquisition of new clients.
These practicalities in the SME sector suggest that DWP may have a challenge in balancing quality against affordability in any proposed mechanism of supporting SMEs to obtain sector-appropriate OH services. The only justification for spending public money on such a support mechanism is a long-lasting, credible and sustainable service to the SME sector which can be audited by DWP to have given benefit; itself a considerable task. There may be a considerable call on public financial support, because after all, other than actions required by legislation under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, occupational health services are a discretionary spend by companies. There may be scope for DWP and selected OH providers to work together to agree relevant outcome data to demonstrate any benefit, or lack of it, resulting from the use of public funds for support. We wish the Department well in its quest to resolve these issues and would be happy to assist.
James Heffer, MA, MSc, BM, BCh, Dip Occ Med, DDAM
Fiona Tees MBBS, MRCGP, Dip Occ Med, Dip Diving Medicine
 Heath is Everyone’s Business: Government Response, Ch 4: October 2021
 Workplace Wellness, 29 Bridge Street, Bradford on Avon, BA15 1BY 01225 899099