Background: A small minority of the UK workforce currently has access to an occupational physician. Reduction in the size of enterprises, the emergence of atypical work patterns and problems recruiting and training occupational health specialists risk making this minority even smaller.
Aim: This paper considers the challenges currently facing occupational medicine and how we can improve access to occupational health services (OHS). It aims to highlight some of the diverse internal and external factors that restrict the UK's ability to provide all workers access to OHS.
Method: A literature review was carried out and combined with awareness of current trends in business and new legislation together with provision of occupational medicine in other countries.
Results: Potentially controversial solutions that might help to make OHS more widely accessible were identified and are discussed. It is hoped that these will provoke further debate.
Conclusion: Individually and organizationally, we must examine and improve capabilities if we are to improve worker access to OHS and deliver targets to reduce occupational ill-health. It is suggested that this requires a strategic shift to apply resources differently. There is need to explore delegation of tasks traditionally performed by doctors to nurses and other staff together with the outsourcing of non-core work. The increased use of telemedicine and the enhanced use of information technology for training, risk assessments, wellness programmes and questionnaire-based health assessments are other developments that should be explored.