Nick Pahl, CEO of SOM: Manifesto for sick note Britain ahead of the General Election

Nick Pahl (1)

“Sick note” Britain is in the news and will be a key issue in the election and for any new Government. I would like any new Government to focus on good jobs – rewarding and worthwhile jobs that enhance our life, social interaction, appreciation from others, a feeling of achievement, and enhanced self-esteem.

Mind shift

Government needs to put in measures to support health at work and return to work. Should we aim for a similar shift that occurred when doctors previously advised bed rest for a bad back to now gentle activity – moving to doctors advising return to work and engaging with work instead of time off for stress and anxiety?

A key culture war has also emerged on mental health and work. There needs to be Government investment in good mental health services if you have mental health issues. But. if I am feeling anxious and stressed or low that does not mean I am mentally ill.

Indeed, research shows that staying at work could well be good for me. We need to be clearer on this distinction between mental illness and mental health (1). When does feeling sad and a low mood become depression? Is there an arbitrary cut off point? As New Scientist said recently, are many of us just languishing (2)?

I would like to see the new Government encouraging employers to be good employers and more supportive – as Quaker employers did at the start of the industrial revolution. A good workplace is one where there is a team of people who appreciate each other, have a manager who looks after them and they respect.

SOM’s Manifesto 2024 ask

SOM’s Manifesto 2024 ask is Universal Access to Occupational Health. This will boost the UK’s economy as it will reduce the number of people who are not in work due to ill health (this level has spiked by over 400k to over 2.8M since the pandemic) (1).

A national Occupational Health strategy would cover:

  • Investment to support people stay and return to work, linking primary care with community assets, and work and pensions staff and occupational health in a tiered framework.
  • A local work and health strategy to strategically support people living with ill health return to work and stay in work.
  • Reform of the fit note to support people quickly back to work through case note reviews and rapid access.
  • A workforce plan that builds a multidisciplinary occupational health workforce that can deliver occupational health advice across all workplaces.
  • A National Director for Work and Health
  • Investment in NHS occupational health to enable health and social care professionals to access the support they need to avoid sickness absence and work-related mental ill health.
  • There should be a requirement for larger organisations to invest in workplace health, including occupational health and Investment in research with a National Centre for Work and Health for evidence generation to inform employers.

There should be a requirement for larger organisations to invest in workplace health, including occupational health and investment in research with a National Centre for Work and Health for evidence generation to inform employers.

Leveraging the opportunity

There are a few ways we can use the opportunity of the General Election:

  1. Raise awareness of these issues among candidates through social media
  2. Let SOM know if you can help facilitate a workplace visit (this could be for candidates during the election campaign or sitting MPs in the run-up). Visits can be a high impact and memorable way to communicate what occupational health is for and its importance.
  3. Contact candidates in your local constituency and raise with them the importance of occupational health for keeping people with health conditions in work and the need for universal access. They may be keen to engage, and it may establish a relationship which you can build on after the Election. You can contact candidates via social media, their personal websites, or at local hustings events.
  4. Tell SOM about any engagement you do in relation to the Election. SOM may be able to help amplify your messages or follow up with any new contacts made after the Election.




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