12 June 2012

What happens at an occupational health referral?

At Taylor-Mohrs we are often asked about the process of referring an employee to us for an occupational health assessment - what are the circumstances for a referral, how does it work, what information is required and what should you expect in return?
As a CQC registered occupational health practice in Bristol, Taylor-Mohrs has clear service levels in place for referring employers which we are happy to supply on request. This article is intended as a brief summary of some of the issues involved and our thoughts on best practice.
What are the usual reasons for a referral?
There are a number of reasons, the most common include long term sickness absence (usually defined as continuous absence of 4 weeks or more), concerns over reduced performance at work (where a health problem might be an issue), regular cases of short term absence, investigation of work related illness or injury and the assessment of whether a health problem is likely to be work related.
The importance of employee communication
We believe it is helpful to inform the employee why they are being referred and what the process will involve. This in itself can be daunting so Taylor-Mohrs sends the employee friendly and helpful pre-appointment information - and also provides letters for our referring clients to send themselves. We want to put employees at ease before what is, after all, an experience away from their normal doctor.
What information should be provided in advance?
We ask that referring clients provide relevant information on each employee to include sickness absence information, job descriptions relating to the referred employee and any additional work related information that is deemed of assistance. The better the depth and quality of the information, the more likely the physician will be able to fully assess the problem.
If an employer has not referred an employee to an occupational physician before, we will provide a standard referral form with additional questions that can be tailored to specific needs. 
What issues might be explored during the referral?
Our job is to explore the circumstances behind the absence so it is helpful to have a list of questions the employer would specifically like answered.
There may be an underlying medical reason for regular spells of short term absence - we are often asked for an opinion as to whether this is likely to improve. 
Common employer issues include:
Is the employee fit for work - or, when is the employee likely to become fit for work?
What sort of accommodations or adjustments might be needed to return them to work? 
Are these likely to be short term or permanent? 
Does the employee have a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010?
In cases of stress, is the stress caused by the work itself or are there outside issues?
Are further absences likely and at what frequency?
Is the illness and the absence caused or made worse by work activity? 
What can be done to reduce the risk of further health problems in the workplace?
The report
Our report to the referring client will be clear, concise and will address questions asked in the referral, including findings, recommendations and prognosis. Our report will also provide advice on reasonable adjustments an employer may wish to consider including the type of duties that could be undertaken if fitness to work is in question. Where possible a likely date on which the employee could return to work will be stated.
This report will be emailed to the referring client within 48 hours of the consultation or earlier if possible.
Managing expectations
It is important to explain to employees and employers that, as occupational health physicians, we are independently assessing the employee and looking for medical issues affecting their attendance at work. We aim to provide a balanced analysis of the causes of absence and suggest ways of resolving issues. However it is the employer who must ultimately decide what recommendations they are able to support and this is made clear to all employees at the consultation.
For further information about occupational health assessments and our other services, please visit: www.taylormohrs.co.uk or call us on 0117 906 4227.