Meet a member of the network

Dr Rob Hampton, GP and Occupational Physician, introduces the New GP Interest Group in Health and work.

The time is right for a GP Interest Group in Health and Work!

As a GP with an occupational medicine practice and long-term interest in the health of the working age population, I've always wanted to see UK occupational health move closer to mainstream healthcare. It feels that we are now moving closer to a world where GPs and other healthcare professionals will think about referring patients towards vocational rehabilitation as naturally as they would request a blood test, X-ray or other forms of therapy.

The themes outlined in the joint DoH/DWP Improving Lives paper set out a path for changes that will help GPs recognise the importance of work as a health outcome and facilitate referral to improved employment support services.

So why is a GP Interest Group (GPSIG) so important?

GPs need to be at the heart of these changes! There is currently no recognised ‘peer-grouping’ of GPs with an interest in health and work. This is unusual, given the number of GPSIGs in virtually every other recognised specialty in the UK. There are an estimated 2,000 GPs with postgraduate qualifications in Occupational Medicine but most practice in absolute/relative isolation. The Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) Council has recognised this and approved the development of a GP Interest Group (GPSIG) in Health & Work within the society. This will be a forum for GPs to discuss all areas of mutual interest and will inform and guide the SOM Council and Board in matters relevant to primary care, health and work.

The RCGP has welcomed the formation of this group and, ‘will consider the criteria for a potential role as GP with an Extended Role (GPER) in Health and Work in conjunction with the Society and Faculty of Occupational Medicine’.

A launch is planned soon. In the meantime, SOM have set up a GPConnect area where health and work news will be sent to interested GPs. Sign-up to GPConnect if you want to know more: SOM GP Connect bulletin.

Versus Arthritis Survey

The launch of the GP interest group for health and work is great news for people with arthritis. Here at Versus Arthritis, we recently carried out a survey which highlighted that people with arthritis across the UK are missing out on the support they need to stay in work.

We had more than 1,500 survey respondents who shared that they had experienced pain (95%), fatigue (86%) and stress (53%) at work because of their condition.

The survey also told us 35% of respondents had reduced their working hours, 26% had changed the type of work they do and a further 19% had given up work completely or taken early retirement.

We believe the help on offer to support people with arthritis to be in work must be improved.

What can you do?

  • Support our campaign calling for improvements to the Access to Work scheme. You can find out more and get involved here and send our powerful new report Working It Out to your local MP to help us draw attention to this issue.
  • Join our campaign network to be kept up to date with projects like this.
  • Make your patients aware that support is available from the Government through the 'access to work' scheme by just going online to www.gov.uk/access-to-work or calling 0800 121 7479. Access to Work grants can be used to fund specialist equipment, support workers, taxi costs, mental health support services or disability awareness training for colleagues. 69% of our survey respondents who hadn’t accessed the scheme said they believed these forms of support could have helped them in the workplace.

Dr Hampton concludes, 'The Access to Work scheme is a really important service for people with long term health conditions such as arthritis and back pain to stay at or return to work. The fact that 60% of respondents to the survey had not heard of the scheme is not a surprise. I would anticipate that a similar or even higher percentage of healthcare practitioners would respond in the same way. The importance of work as an outcome of health delivery cannot be underestimated and the Access to Work scheme can make such a difference. I always advise GPs who attend my workshops on sickness absence to suggest the scheme as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ on fit notes. This can stimulate helpful dialogue at work, or with the Job Centre.'