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
Professor David Coggon
7 October 2008