As a civil servant you can access Occupational Health (OH) advice if you have a health issue or disability affecting your wellbeing or ability to work. This specialist medical advice can help you and your manager work together to ensure you have the understanding and support to recover, stay well and fulfil your potential.
But not everyone knows this, or feels comfortable discussing sensitive health issues. Amanda Hinkley, Head of Occupational Health and Staff Wellbeing at Public Health England would like to address the common worries and misapprehensions about Occupational Health and explain what good communication looks like.
Let’s bust the myths, explain how the process works and make Occupational Health work for you.
How does the Occupational Health process work and how open do people have to be about their health?
The role of Occupational Health is to help keep staff members well at work both physically and mentally. The past few months have been incredibly challenging and staff members have found Occupational Health advice and support particularly beneficial.
The support and advice provided by Occupational Health usually follows a self-referral or a management referral, when your existing health condition or disability may be affecting work, or when work may be affecting your own health.
A management referral to Occupational Health can only happen with your agreement and your manager will be required to complete a referral form and to discuss the reason for the referral with you. Your discussion with the Occupational Health nurse, doctor or physiotherapist is confidential, and being as open about your situation as possible will help ensure that the advice given is of maximum benefit. Following your assessment, when an advisory report is provided to your manager, this does not need to contain any confidential medical or sensitive personal information. The Occupational Health clinician will let you know exactly what will be included in the report and you will be given the opportunity to see it before giving your consent for it to be sent to your manager.
A self-referral can be made by any staff member looking for confidential advice or support in relation to health issues that may be affecting or may be affected by work. Advice provided would usually be verbal, but in certain situations where it is felt that communication with the staff member’s manager would be particularly beneficial, and with the staff member’s explicit agreement, a short advisory report may be sent.
What makes a good Occupational Health report, and what can you do if it does not meet these standards?
A good Occupational Health report should provide your manager with the following advice:
- An opinion on your fitness for work.
- If currently unfit, an estimate of the timescale for a return to work.
- If a timescale cannot be provided, an understanding of why this is the case and advice on how to proceed.
- Where relevant, advice on short term adjustments to help rehabilitate or facilitate your return to work.
- If appropriate, advice on longer term or permanent adjustments to the role which may be relevant if you have a disability.
- Answer any specific questions posed on the referral form.
The report should be grammatically correct, clear and concise, and should not contain any unnecessary medical detail.
If you have a concern that an OH report does not meet these standards, your Occupational Health service needs to know. Please ensure that feedback is given in accordance with your local procedures.
How can managers and employees work together to follow the advice and seek suitable workplace adjustments?
Once an Occupational Health advisory report has been completed and has been released to the line manager, the manager and employee should meet to discuss this advice and how best to implement it in the specific operational context.
If, for example, a phased return to work on 50% of normal hours is advised for the first week back after illness, it may be helpful to structure the hours so that there is always someone onsite to support you. Also consideration may need to be given to travel arrangements if you usually car share to get to work.
In some cases, an individual stress risk assessment may be advised. Completing an assessment together gives the line manager and the staff member the framework to discuss in detail any work-related factors that may be affecting the staff member’s health and to formulate a plan to manage any emerging concerns.
If adjustments are likely to be long term or permanent, the Workplace Adjustment Passport can also be a useful document for the staff member to complete and share with their line manager. This document remains with the staff member and can also be shared with future managers if the staff member moves into a new role or if a new manager comes into their team.
What happens with people’s Occupational Health reports and sensitive information?
Your Occupational Health record is considered sensitive health data and is managed in accordance with data protection legislation and professional codes of conduct. All data is held securely and can only be accessed by members of the Occupational Health team. If you wish to see a copy of your record, you can make a subject access request to do so.
The Occupational Health advisory report generated following your consultation is also considered confidential, but with your agreement, is shared with your manager to help them support you at work. It will not be shared with anyone else without your explicit consent.