The pilot of an Enhanced Occupational Health and HR Service appears to have increased provision and equity of access to workplace support for primary care staff across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, a newly published evaluation found.
The findings have led to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Integrated Care Board (who took over the commissioning of services from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Clinical Commissioning Group in July 2022), approving an extension of the Occupational Health and HR signposting service for primary care for a further twelve months.
Before the service was in place, practices would pay privately for occupational health provisions or find ways to address the need from within the practice (such as in-house pre-employment assessments). At the time there were significant levels of variation in access to occupational health and HR services for staff across different health settings, and across the county.
In October 2021 the CCG launched the Enhanced Occupational Health and HR Service to all independent general practices and pharmacies within the county. The 12-month service implementation pilot was designed to reduce the inequalities in quality occupational health provision to primary care across the area, in turn supporting colleagues to remain in work and well or to return to work and do this well. It was designed to complement and enhance any existing occupational health and HR relationships that GP Practices already had in place.
In providing an occupational health and HR service that is free to access for all primary care in the area, the enhanced service met a previously unmet need. It was felt that the entire workforce now had equal access to occupational health provision that would be provided by occupational health professionals and independent of the practice. Staff appreciated the opportunity of having the conversation and speaking to somebody completely independent of the process.
Kathy Bonney, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs, Organisational Development and HR at Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Integrated Care Board, said:
“We wanted to ensure that everyone working in primary care across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough got the same access to the support they need. It’s been brilliant working with Eastern AHSN to ensure we properly evaluate this pilot to ensure we understand its impact before we seek a sustainable model for the continuation of the service”
“Before this system we paid privately …. now all of general practice is on the same playing field, so all staff should get the same benefits. And I think it’s on a par with the service that hospital staff get which is something that doesn’t normally happen in primary care.”
“As a comparatively small GP practice we just don’t have that level of resource …..we are not experts and not independent of the situation either. So, I think having that provision is excellent.”
The Occupational Health service and the Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) was provided by Optima Health, a leading supplier of Occupational Health and wellbeing services in the UK. The HR service was provided locally from within the CCG/ICB in collaboration with the Local Medical Council, Local Pharmaceutical Committee and the Training Hub. The University of East Anglia worked with Eastern AHSN who were commissioned to evaluate the impact of the project.
Optima Health have reviewed the evaluation and have provided the following response:
Optima Health’s clinician referral responses can sometimes be challenging for the individual undergoing the referral; this is especially if there are fitness to practice issues which may impact the individual’s role going forwards.
Optima Health has a strong internal governance process and audit in place to ensure that practitioners provide the best referral advice available within the scope of the referral received. Optima Health continues to invest in these qualitative and audit processes in support of a culture of continuous improvement throughout the organisation.
Challenging feedback or concerns that are raised with Optima Health are investigated by senior clinicians and the referral response is reviewed against the initial referral request in order to ensure that transparent feedback is provided and, where necessary, follow up action is completed.
Optima Health’s process is designed to be supportive to the individuals and the organisations that use the service, and we see that this has been achieved in the majority of cases.
Optima Health will continue to focus on our governance processes and the development and improvement of our comprehensive referral training package for our clients.
Optima Health acknowledges the findings that show that our processes are equitable and have been shown to provide a benefit to the practices that have used the service.
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