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Tackling health and safety difficulties within the NHS

first_img Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Kath Burke finds out about the daily stresses and strains faced by alllevels of NHS staff and the new strategy that the Department of Health hopeswill turn things aroundThe problems of stress are becoming chronic, accident rates are very highand the risk of being attacked by violent drunks now poses a serious everydayrisk. Add the chance of injury due to sharp instruments or lifting heavyobjects, and a career in the NHS hardly sounds like a recipe for health andwell-being. This admission comes directly from HR chief Andrew Foster. Speaking at last month’s National Audit Office (NAO) conference, Foster cameclean about the NHS’s occupational health and safety woes. But he stronglydefended the NHS against criticisms from two recent NAO reports, and theparliamentary Public Accounts Committee. Foster admitted that the current sickness absence rate was still 0.3 percent higher than it should have been in 2001, at 4.6 per cent. But he insistedthat it was coming down. He went on to dismiss spiralling accident statistics as a blip caused byincreased reporting rates. “It’s a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week service. There are lots of dangersaround, whether it’s violence, sharp instruments or patients to behandled,” he said. Although Foster indicated the NHS’s first occupational health and safetystrategy would be out for consultation by the end of November, Personnel Todayhas since learned it has now been delayed until after Christmas. Foster’s remarks were in response to two critical NAO reports on the NHSearlier this year – one on health and safety risks in general and the otherfocusing on violence against staff. Health & safety register Karen Taylor, director of health value for money at the NAO, and author ofofficial reports on health and safety and violence against employees, suggestedthe NHS should tailor targets to individual trusts and set up a nationalrequirement for health and safety staff to be registered in the same way asdoctors and nurses. The NAO report found wide variations in health and safety standards acrossNHS trusts, with some falling below the statutory minimum. Only 43 per cent ofhealth and safety staff are members of the Institute of Safety and Health, and18 per cent have no relevant formal qualifications. “There’s no central registration body to guarantee the level ofcompetence of health and safety staff,” Taylor said. “Obviously it would improve the status of health and safety and itsinfluence within trusts if there was some assurance about theircompetence.” Progress on the health and safety strategy may have been hampered by a massive37 per cent downsizing operation at the Department of Health, as many staffwill move to a new employer’s body that will handle pay negotiations, andhealth and operations. Occupational health (OH) is another crucial area. Julian Topping, theDepartment of Health (DoH) official who is currently writing the strategy,explained that it should help improve standards of patient care. It will setout staff accountabilities and responsibilities for occupational health andsafety, while monitoring progress through the DoH’s Improving Working Lives(IWL) targets. “The department recognises that unless managers in the field investtheir time, interest, energy and money in managing OH effectively, then theirstaff are not going to be at work,” said Topping. “And if their staffaren’t at work, then trusts do not deliver on their targets.” The Association of Healthcare Human Resources Management (AHHRM) hopes thestrategy will focus on violence against staff and tackling workplace stress,and will encourage employers to develop agreements with trade unions andprofessional bodies. AHHRM’s president Elaine Way is upbeat about the future – even envisagingthe NHS as a model for first-rate occupational health. But she also concededthat much work still needs to be done. “Employers need to be better at making workplace modifications andfacilitating phased early returns,” she said. “This depends ondetailed analysis of the compatibility of certain health conditions withwork.” Improving the NHS’s occupational health and safety record – including manualhandling injuries, slips trips and falls, stress levels and violent assaults –will be crucial if trusts are to reduce their absence levels to meet Governmenttargets. Despite the obvious problems, many HR professionals are pleased that staffsafety and well-being issues now have a higher profile. London AmbulanceService’s corporate HR manager Kevin Aylward said he now feels more confidentbidding for slices of the trust’s overall budget. “HR can only influence, and the fact that we now have a higher profileallows us to influence an operational organisation, so the board are with usbecause they can see the benefits,” he said. Climbing the ladder London Ambulance Service has just committed to buying 130 new vehiclesspecially designed to reduce the risk of staff getting back injuries fromlifting patients, and all frontline staff have been issued with ‘stab’ vestswhich must be worn on high-risk calls. The service has now been promoted to themiddle level of the IWL kitemark ladder after making rostering more flexibleand introducing a variety of staff counselling and feedback services. “There have been years when you felt the organisation was rudderless –you certainly don’t feel that now,” Aylward said. “These are thingsthat a lot of people in HR have believed in for a long time, but it’s easier toget things done with central support from strategic health authorities asyou’ve got other colleagues to share information with.” Topping, the DoH’s long-standing lead on occupational health and safety,wants to reassure HR specialists that better care for staff is a crucial steptowards improving the nation’s health. He insisted the latest drive for better employee care was more than apassing trend, and now forms a crucial trench in the future of the NHS. “So many staff are off sick, leaving, retiring or injured that if wewere to halve the number of staff we lose each year just to back pain, it wouldhave a huge effect on patient care and the patient’s experience. “The occupational health and safety strategy is something we have gotto do, and we have to keep on hammering away at it.” Tackling health and safety difficulties within the NHSOn 9 Dec 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.last_img read more