Reaching those in need: the Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service
Sheila Pantry, OBE
Key to the success of an organisation is its ability to develop its work to meet the needs of the community. The Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS) has done exactly this by providing occupational health services to patients in the primary care (family doctor) system and in the community for 20 years. So successful has this been that the methods developed have been adopted nationally in the UK.
SOHAS, which has just celebrated the move to new offices, officially opened by the UK Minister of Trade, the Rt. Hon Richard Caborn on 23 February 2001, has been responding to the changing needs of workers and ex-workers for prevention advice, health surveillance, advice on benefits and retirement topics and rehabilitation/job retention.
SOHAS' method of work, particularly in primary care, enables them to identify and respond to new areas of concern as they emerge.
The work is split into two areas:
Funding to continue the General Practitioner (GP) based occupational Health Advisor sessions has come from the Sheffield Health Action Zone which is a seven year programme of action, started in 1999, designed to tackle the root causes of ill-health. SOHAS is developing services accessible to all medical practices across Sheffield.
NOHAP (National Occupational Health Assistance through Primary Care), a 3 year programme, funded by the UK Department of Health. This provides funds for an occupational health facilitator, working with Primary Care Groups throughout the country, to enable them to develop Occupational Health Services.
Evaluation has shown that patients can recognise their own problems. A survey by East London Occupational Health Practice found a close correlation between patients' self-reported health problems and those identified in the same individuals by an occupational health physician.
A survey of all 250 adults attending a GP surgery in one week in Sheffield showed that 10% wanted occupational health advice.
Interviewing patients while they are waiting to see the GP or a member of the primary health care team has given SOHAS a fresh look at the occupational morbidity in the population.
Prevention plays a larger part and financial issues a correspondingly smaller part in the advice given than when patients are seen by referral.
Targeting and systematic screening
When occupational health advisers know the occupational make up of an area well, another possibility is to target high risk groups (by occupation or exposure) and to make planned interventions.
Occupational health advisers working in primary care projects make four kinds of intervention:
- They record a patients' occupational history which is entered into the
patient’s notes to inform other members of the Primary Health Care Team of
potential hazards to which the patient is or has been exposed.
- They offer advice, providing information of prevention, legal rights and
duties, health risks and working solutions but also advising on how to use
safety committees, safety reps and safety management systems at work.
- They carry out health surveillance; primarily audiometry, spirometry and
tests of peripheral nerve damage.
- They carry out surveys - often encouraging patients to bring their workmates to the surgery or showing them how to use questionnaires at work.
- Prevention Measures – Advice on controlling and eliminating hazards,
protective clothing, reporting injuries and illness, safety law, using health
and safety inspectors, the rights of workers’ safety representatives.
- Employment Rights – Advice on the employment rights of people with
health problems; getting work adapted; unfair dismissal; the Disability
Discrimination Act; and the special needs of women who are pregnant.
- Assessing Risk – Help with assessing the risks to which workers are
- Job Retention and Rehabilitation - Help with deciding on measures to
be taken to adapt working arrangements for patients with limiting health
- Compensation – Advice on compensation and health related Department of Social Services benefits and help with form filling and letter writing.
Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS) is a charity with a
board of trustees, employs 11 people, including Occupational Health
Advisors, Finance Officer, Information Officer and a Manager.
For further information contact:
SOHAS, 55 Queen Street, Sheffield
S1 1DX, UK | Tel: +44 (0)114 2755760 | Fax: +44 (0)114 249 1883
Sheila Pantry is Editor/Compiler of Health and Safety World. She also
runs an information consultancy specialising in health and safety information,
particularly computerised information, and is a partner publisher with
SilverPlatter Information Ltd