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The value of occupational health research launched at the House of Lords

The report highlights the importance of investing more into the causes of ill-health in working people in the UK

Lord David Blunkett has hosted a launch of the report, The Value of Occupational Health Research, during the launch he highlighted the importance of occupational health research and spoke about his personal experience, telling the attendees that his father had been killed in a work accident when he was 11 years old.

Lord David Blunkett, a patron of the Society of Occupational Medicine hosted the launch at the House of Lords. The report highlights the importance of investing more into the causes of ill-health in working people in the UK.

At the event, Professor Ewan Macdonald highlighted that only 45% of workers in the UK have access to occupational health advice in the workplace and, because of a lack of investment in training of doctors and nurses, this situation was getting worse. Mental health, musculoskeletal, skin, respiratory and cancer due to work are still relatively common. 1.4 million workers are estimated to suffer from a work-related disease.

What is making the situation worse is that everyone is expected to work longer, but despite that, 50% of the workforce were leaving the workforce before retirement age, many because of disability and because they and their employers were not getting the skilled support and advice, which could help people to work safely and longer.

The people who left the workforce were then forgotten about – “society presses the delete button”, and so the inverse care law applies where the healthiest workers get better care than those who leave because they are sick. The NHS treats disease but does little about helping them rehabilitate so that they can return to work. The costs of these failures are huge.

Because of a lack of investment most of the research centres which have studied work-related diseases and ill-health have closed over the past 40 years and there are fewer academics trained in this field.

The report has 12 recommendations, including calling for the development of a new coordinating Centre for Health and Work, independent of, but working with regulators, to be a focal point for coordinating research and advice, academic training, and to research the evidence based interventions which are needed. Other recommendations were that occupational advice should be available to all workers and that there should be a national co-ordinated OH research strategy which should include robust health economic evaluation.

The report was prepared by a team from the University of Glasgow and sponsored by the Society of Occupational Medicine and the Health and Safety Executive.
The team was led by Professor Ewan Macdonald, Head of the Healthy Working Lives Group, with Dr Drushca Lalloo, Dr Sergio Vargas-Prada Figuero, and from HEHTA, Dr Evi Germeni and Professor Emma McIntosh.

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