GPs will have access to needle stick services and be able to refer themselves to a service that will assess their fitness to work under a new national occupational health service.
NHS England has released details of the new national occupational health support service, which was first pledged in 2014 and takes over from the patchy local arrangements that currently exist.
It follows Pulse’s Battling Burnout campaign, which has been calling for comprehensive mental health support to be available to all GPs while revealing that excellent occupational health services have been struggling because of a lack of funding.
But the current service specification does not include details about the psychological support service, which is expected to be announced shortly.
GP leaders said that while the national specification ensures all GPs will have some occupational health support, it will be a ‘retrograde step’ in areas that had previously offered a more comprehensive service.
They also condemned the ‘short-sighted’ decision to withhold NHS funding to support practice staff.
The new ’National Primary Care Occupational Health Service Specification’ ensures GPs on the national performers list will have access to an ‘enhanced occupational health assessment’, where they can self refer to assess whether they are fit to continue working.
The GP’s medical director, appraiser and their own GP will also be able to refer them to the service, but can only do so with the individual’s consent.
The specification states: ‘The occupational health service supplier(s) will obtain and interpret medical and other information where necessary; and will provide advice; including a written report concerning the performer/employee’s health and the impact it may have on their ability to perform their duties.’
GPs will also have access to needle stick services: virology testing, blood borne virus vaccinations, immunisations and urgent and long-term management of GPs exposed to a blood borne virus.
The service will be available ‘normal working hours’ Monday to Friday, excluding bank holidays. But a 24/7 out-of-hours advice line will be in operation ‘to direct primary care staff to A&E.’
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘While having an occupational service commissioned for the whole of England would be a step forward for some areas where there has been next to no service available for many years, this service will be a retrograde step for those areas that have previously invested in a comprehensive service for GPs and their staff.’
He added that NHS England should be ‘commissioning a full service for all those who work in GP practices as all staff could need the same access to occupational health services’.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens pledged in September last year that area teams would this month begin procuring a new national GP occupational health service, which would include psychological support based on services such as the London Practitioner Health Programme (PHP) set up by former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada.
Professor Gerada said she was anticipating delays with this component: ‘It’s meant to come out at the end of April, but we think there’s a lot of slippage there.’
On Monday, the Welsh Government announced it would invest £200m to ensure GPs could have access to the same occupational and pastoral health support as directly-employed staff, though GPC Wales also called for this to be extended to practice staff.