Occupational Health Reports – Do You Need One?

In May this year, NHS England South made an announcement stating that although GPs are covered by their new Occupational Health Scheme, other members of GP practice staff would not be… “Occupational health services [for staff who are not GPs] are not funded by NHS England and will need to be funded by GP practices … because they are not covered under the new arrangements.”  

However, with information suggesting that occupational health reports can cost upwards of £100 each, we take a look at the key questions: what are the benefits of an OH report, what are the risks of not getting a report at all – and are there any alternatives?

Ultimately, as an employer you have a duty of care to your employees.  If an employee has an ongoing health condition that is affecting their work then you have a responsibility to consider getting a medical report.  The report would confirm:

  • The nature of the illness
  • The treatment being undertaken and the likelihood of its success
  • Whether or not there are any reasonable adjustments you need to consider


The Benefits of Requesting an Occupational Health Report

  • A specialist occupational health nurse or doctor (over the phone or in person, depending on the service selected) will review the employee’s medical history, current condition and prognosis in light of their current role.
  • The report should indicate if the condition is likely to be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010.
  • If so, it will suggest what reasonable adjustments the practice can consider to help the employee to return to and/or remain in work.
  • They may be able to comment on the likelihood and length of further absences
  • Advise you of the likelihood of successful treatment, future prognosis or alternative treatment options. 


Risky Business?
 

The main risk to practices, as with all businesses, is that an employee may be covered by the Equality Act 2010 for a medical condition (commonly referred to as a disability).  Broadly speaking, under the Act, a condition would have to have been in place, or be expected to be in place for 12 months or more and have a substantial impact on everyday life.  Some medical conditions are automatically covered, such as cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. 

If an employee has a condition that is, or is likely to be covered by the EQA, the practice has a duty to consider reasonable adjustments to help them in their work – things like changes to hours, duties or equipment, either temporarily or permanently – and the OH report would advise you of these, or confirm that there were no reasonable adjustments you could make. 

It’s important to note that although you have a duty to consider any reasonable adjustments, if the suggestions/requests are not practical for business reason, you should discuss them with the employee, explaining why. The next step would be working with them to see what other changes, if anything, you can consider.  Make sure you keep notes of these conversations. 

If you are aware that an employee has or may have a condition but do nothing, the risk is that you may face a claim for discrimination in an employment tribunal. This is why it’s important to demonstrate that you took their condition seriously and sought to implement reasonable adjustments. 


Everyone Likes Free Stuff...
 

As a cheaper alternative to Occupational Health, you can consider the government’s Fit for Work Service. It’s free to use, but the employee would have to be off for four weeks or more. 


Just What the Doctor Ordered?
 

A cheaper alternative could be writing to an employee’s GP or treating specialist (for example, a consultant) if they have one.  However, prices will vary, as will the quality and depth of the reports. They will not necessarily be as helpful because the clinicians are experts in the condition and its treatment rather than in supporting the employee in the world of work and reasonable adjustments. That being said, it may be better than nothing!

The Government also has a scheme where an employee can apply for an Access to Work grant themselves, which can pay for things like:

  • Special equipment
  • Adaptations
  • Support worker services to help them carry out their role
  • Help getting to and from work

Please note, a different scheme applies in Northern Ireland and you can find more information here


Out on a Limb
 

Consider contacting your CCG/health board or other local surgeries and asking them if there is a possibility of them getting a contract/bulk buy discount form an OH report provider. 

Some more well-known conditions may have national charities or foundations dedicated to raising awareness of the condition, supporting sufferers and pushing for research and better treatment.  These organisations also often have a section for employers of people with the condition and can provide useful background and suggestions of things to help.  Here are just a few:   


FPM members can access a template Invitation to Occupational Health letter as part of our invaluable Policies and Procedures Library. Plus, members can get in touch via our email helpline at hrhelp@firstpracticemanagement.co.uk for support with HR issues and queries


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