Occupational health

Doctor consultation

Attracting and retaining staff with the right values, commitment and expertise is critical to business success, and key to being able to provide high quality patient care. Occupational health teams work towards keeping staff physically and emotionally well and at work.

A good quality occupational health service can help the NHS become more productive, reduce sickness absence and save money. For occupational health to have the greatest impact on the organisation it should work in partnership with key stakeholders including, for example, human resources, health and safety, and more crucially managers. Managers need to be aware what services occupational health provide and feel able approach and access occupational health for support and advice when this is needed. 

Podcast - Health and wellbeing: the role of occupational health

In this podcast, Dr Anne de Bono, chair of NHS Health at Work talks about what a quality occupational health service looks like, the role of occupational health in achieving organisational goals and how it can contribute to the health and wellbeing agenda. 

This page provides information on:

What is occupational health? 

Occupational health is a specialist branch of medicine focussing on the health of staff in the workplace. Occupational health professionals aim to find out what impact work has on staff health and make sure that staff are fit to undertake the role they are employed to do both physically and emotionally. Occupational health specialists can support organisations through advising on work-related illnesses and accidents, carrying out assessments for new starters and existing employees, monitoring the health of employees and prevention. 

Occupational health services are also used to assist organisations in managing both short and long term absence situations. The opinion of an occupational health specialist maybe crucial in determining how to manage a capability issue, and the opinion of an occupational health specialist can be key evidence in an employment tribunal claim.

Occupational health typically advise staff and their managers on what adjustments can be made to enable staff to undertake their role safely and effectively and wherever possible, focus on adapting the work to suit the health needs of the staff member. 

What services do occupational health provide?

Occupational health teams provide a range of services designed specifically to meet the needs of each NHS organisation. Many of these services are proactive, aimed at keeping staff well and at work and not just about supporting staff when they are ill. 

Occupational health activities are likely to include:

  • ensuring compliance with health and safety regulations - and helping maintain a healthy workforce 
  • offering pre employment health assessments 
  • preventing and removing health risks arising in the workplace 
  • providing screening and surveillance services in the early stages of ill health  and developing solutions to keep staff with health issues at work 
  • providing independent and professional diagnosis, prognosis and advice on staff unable to work due to long-term or short-term intermittent health problems, and organisational wide steps to reduce sickness absence 
  • advising on ergonomic issues and workplace design 
  • lifestyle, health promotion and wellbeing services increasing productivity and staff retention.

What are the benefits of occupational health services at work?

The most effective organisations look upon their staff as a key resource and as such invest in them in the same way as they would in other resources. Having a workplace occupational health service gives staff and managers rapid access to professional specialist advice which will help protect, maintain and support staff with health issues in the workplace.

Occupational health have the advantage of being able to work closely with the manager to understand the complexities of roles within an NHS organisation and can therefore suggest adjustments and support which someone without that knowledge and understanding may not be able to offer.   

Some employers take a proactive approach to workplace health involving the whole workforce and actively promoting a culture of 'wellness'. Some good examples include:

Useful information

Rapid access to treatment and rehabilitation

Rapid access is a system which will secure rehabilitation and occupational health treatment for NHS employees with a view to facilitating a return to work which is, as fast as practical, and reasonable. NHS Employers has produced guidance recommending  rapid access to treatment and rehabilitation for NHS staff. Read the guidance

Realigning occupational health services

NHS Employers has produced two new pieces of guidance to support NHS organisations in the commissioning and performance management of occupational health services. Read the guidance.


Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS), is a set of standards and a process of accreditation that aims to help to raise the overall standard of care provided by occupational health services. Read more about the accreditation scheme.

NHS Health at Work

NHS Health at Work is dedicated to improving the health of NHS staff. Its primary aims include:

  • informing and influencing occupational health policy 
  • building a robust evidence base 
  • supporting you to deliver the best clinical and business practice in occupational health. 

Their aim is for occupational health in the NHS to be highly valued and to develop their capability and capacity so that trusts are offering a world-class service to all staff in the NHS. 

The network is a membership organisation for occupational health teams operating in the NHS in England. For them to become a successful, sustainable and truly representative organisation we need to understand the issues that are affecting you and to be able to offer appropriate and timely support. 

Please engage with your regional board representative and feedback any comments, issues and ideas. 

The Health and Safety Essential Guide

The Health and Safety Essential Guide gives you access to the content of what was previously called The Healthy Workplaces Handbook and to the Occupational Health and Safety Standards which have been developed by the Health, Safety and Wellbeing Partnership Group (previously known as POSHH). 

Produced with input from the NHS, government, trade unions and public bodies, the health and safety essential guide provides easy to use guides produced in collaboration by experts on key health and safety topics. From within the Health and Safety Essential Guide, the following documents support Occupational health services within the NHS.

  • Health assessments 
  • Unsocial hours and night working 
  • Protecting staff from infection 
  • Diabetes

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