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GPs set to give more help on health at work

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GPs, practice nurses and practice managers are to be given more support to treat and advise patients about health at work and occupational health in general. The new package was launched at the Royal College of General Practitioners on Monday. This Distance Learning Programme is designed to give those in general practice a better understanding of the occupational health problems of their patients and, as employers, of their own staff.

GPs and practice nurses are often the only health care providers for ill working people, and yet they have little training in occupational health.

Yvette Cooper, Minister for Public Health said, "We recognise the key role that GPs and their teams should play in improving the health of people at work. This programme will give them more support to advise their patients about health at work. The programme is also backed by £6 million investment announced in the NHS Plan which will come on stream next year to provide occupational health services for GPs and their own staff. I very much welcome this programme and its practical approach."

A total of almost a quarter of a million working years are lost through disease each year. The Confederation of British Industry estimated that temporary sickness costs business over £10 billion annually. The burden is borne by employers and the NHS as well as the working people who are ill.

Hugh Bayley, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Social Security added, "Too often ill health or disability means a worker starts the unhappy slide from work into premature inactivity and poverty. The actions of the GP and the primary health care team are pivotal in ensuring that the right steps towards restoring fitness are taken from the outset."

Lord Whitty, Minister for Health and Safety also supporting this initiative, commented, "This is an excellent example of the way partnerships between government departments and professional bodies can tackle the problem of ill health at work. The package will be of great practical help to staff in general practice whose patients rely on them for occupational health advice."

This new programme includes a book, "Occupational Health Matters in General Practice". It was written under the guidance of a joint committee of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Faculty of Occupational Medicine, the Society of Occupational Medicine and the British Medical Association. Of the four authors who were commissioned by the University of Manchester, three have been GPs and three are specialists in occupational health.

The Department of Health, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department of Social Security have been involved in the development of this initiative. The programme is welcomed both by GPs and by professionals in the occupational health field as being well written, practically focussed and containing lots of interactive exercises.

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