Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Memorandum by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (PS 75)

  Due to an administrative error, your email of 22 July did not get through to me until this week, and I apologise, therefore, for the lateness of this reply.

  As you are probably aware, occupational medicine is rather different from most other medical specialties in that most of our specialists work outside the NHS, and their "patients" are workers or people seeking employment. Occupational physicians rarely prescribe medicines other than immunisations, and the input that they make to the management of individuals (as opposed to populations) mainly concerns decisions about fitness for work and suitability for different job tasks.

  The main risks to our "patients" would therefore be from inappropriate advice on employment (eg allowing a worker to carry out a job that posed an unwarranted risk to his personal health), or from adverse reactions to immunisations (which are rarely other than very minor). In addition, errors might be made in health protection policy for populations (eg failing to restrict exposure to a chemical hazard adequately). However, I suspect that these are not the types of safety risk in which you are particularly interested.

  NHS occupational physicians do, however, have a role in relation to the safety of NHS patients more generally, in the work that they do to ensure that NHS staff are fit for the tasks that they undertake (eg that they do not pose an unwarranted risk of transmitting infections such as TB, HIV and hepatitis, or through inappropriate behaviour caused by mental illness). We also have an interest in the impact on patient safety of working methods and conditions. Thus, we would support further research investigating the human factors aspects of patient safety, and the development of evidence-based policy based on such research.

  Once again, I apologise for the lateness of this response.


Professor David Coggon

7 October 2008

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