Staff Health, wellness and a productive environment
Managing staff gets ever more complex as the regulatory environment and society in general progresses with their expectations.
Leaving aside arguments about the European Union and their input – given the delicate state of affairs – but I am highly cognoscente as a former Non-Executive of a NHS Board of the near forty employee policies and procedures that were applied as an interpretation of stem EU directives. I am equally cognoscente of the challenge that they brought to HR staff. Implementation of such requirements is no less challenging in commercial environments especially in the SME sector.
But I also mentioned the expectations of society in general. Societal expectations around the role of the employer in health and wellness are not the only expectations to have moved rapidly forward. The entirety of health care in Scotland and the population’s rights of access is having to re-appraise itself, especially in the context of the recently published Scottish Government National Clinical Strategy. Get to the core of that document and you will see that substantial change is afoot.
No longer able to see a GP
The change with biggest potential impact for all employers is that occurring within General Practice. Within a very short time, the population will not have direct access to experienced GPs for much of what they now consult for in terms of new or acute conditions. The Doctors within Primary Care will be engaged into other expanding roles (care of the elderly etc) whilst for everyone else, primary care will be led by a more diverse team of Nurse practitioners, Pharmacists, Therapists, etc.
How can employers and HR deal with changes to the health provision?
Well ponder for a moment how an SME might handle an employee sickness issue: It’s likely that someone in management would have either a core or agreed HR responsibility. But is there an agreed Occupational Health (OH) protocol in place? And is there an identified provider – even if only for ad hoc access to OH input? In the case of acute sickness absence, the general assumption is ‘see your GP’. The anticipation would be prompt appointment, prompt treatment, advice to the patient on a suitable return to work plan, certification as needed, and also the anticipation that HR could simply communicate with the GP (with consent) should a subsequent report be needed. So in effect, a little recognised facet of the traditional role of the GP, has been that ad hoc OH support to the business continuity.
Return to work is just delayed unnecessarily
However now we are about to enter a new era where all this will fragment. Many bigger firms are already dismayed at how employees can get lost into extended periods of sickness absence simply due to the way NHS healthcare functions at present. There are extended waits to get a GP appointment. If seen and treated by someone other than a GP then the whole process of planning towards return to work and subsequent support around this becomes fragmented. And who does HR approach for any subsequent information and advice about the employee?
Society and employers need to embrace this new era and re-assess their OH and employee health care procedures. Sickness absence is expensive. SMEs need to consider how they can establish good quality, ad hoc – but bespoke – arrangements for OH and allied health care. Prompt, skilled medical attention – assessment, treatment and planning for return to work – will minimise staff time loss and will be seen as a benefit by employees and evidence of a caring employer.
Malcolm Valentine MD is a Medical Director and OH specialist at Private Practice YourGP. For further information visite www.your-gp.com or call 0131 225 5656
Dr Malcolm J Valentine MD FRCGP
Medical Director – YourGP