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Promoting better health in the workplace could benefit employers and relieve pressure on the NHS.

There's a general consensus amongst healthcare professionals that occupational therapists and physiotherapists have a vital role to play in helping people get back to work after an illness or injury. But how about trying to prevent some of those illnesses and injuries in the first place? That's where the concept of 'occupational health' comes in. As was highlighted in a report by the Council for Work and Health (CWH), updated in April this year, preventing illness caused by work and unnecessary sickness absence can 'increase the productivity of UK businesses and enable our public services to become more efficient and cost effective.'

According to the Health and Safety Executive, in 2011/12 there were 27 million days working days lost due to work-related illness and injury. With an ageing workforce and the challenges posed by lifestyle-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes, that figure could rise rapidly unless radical action is taken. As the CWH report points out, that means concerted effort between GPs, hospitals, employers and employees to ensure that the link between good working practices and good health is fully understood and appreciated. 

NHS occupational therapists and physiotherapists can bring plenty of relevant knowledge and experience to the debate, which is why the two professions' trade bodies, the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT) and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), were key contributors to the CWH report. In an article for Occupational Health magazine, the CSP's Leonie Dawson said, "...it is, and is increasingly going to be, about engaging employers and the public as well as simply getting GPs and other healthcare practitioners to have a better understanding of, and make better connections between, health and work."

There's also a wider issue which feeds in to the occupational health debate: the concept of work in itself being good for us and promoting good health. For example, giving those with mental health issues and learning disabilities the opportunity to work can be particularly beneficial, as we previously reported. The CWH report acknowledges this and asserts its relevance to a wide range of healthcare practitioners, including psychologists and mental health support workers: "Many generic Allied Health Professionals have ‘work’ as an outcome measure... The relationship between work and health, particularly good work and good health, is fundamental to all."

Are you an occupational therapist, physiotherapist or mental health professional with views on the idea of occupational health and its future in healthcare provision? Do you see it becoming a mainstream component of UK healthcare or is it something best left to employers themselves?  Leave your comments below.

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