How to choose an occupational health doctor
Many businesses go straight to a GP if they need health advice. It’s a straight forward path, but it does not come without risks. If you get work-related health advice from a doctor, only an occupational health doctor fulfils an employer’s legal obligations.
With consent, an employer can write to a GP about a patient. However, the Access to Medical Reports Act means the employee can see the report and object to any content, before it is released. Therefore, a GP report about a patient does not give impartial, independent advice.
Some doctors will give occupational health advice to businesses without a specialist qualification. They may offer advice or expertise without having had any training in occupational medicine. It is perfectly legal to do so, but it has big risks for employers.
Occupational health exists to help manage the impact of health on work, or work on health. It is designed to give independent, objective advice to businesses to help manage risks. Occupational health doctors obtain specialist qualifications to give specialist advice.
Why does an occupational health qualification matter?
If you need health advice at work, getting advice from a GP is not enough to fulfil your legal obligations. The HSE says “you must get advice from a competent person” to meet the requirements of health and safety law. The law says the competent person must have had sufficient training, experience or knowledge to assist you properly.
A GP who does not have an occupational health qualification but relies upon experience (“I’ve been advising businesses for over 30 years”) is not on solid legal ground. This is because medicine is a very broad church. Being registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) alone does not indicate any degree of competence.
A GP that does not have a recognised occupational health qualification does not have the validation that would enable an employer (or an employee) to be sure of their competency.
Furthermore, if an employer takes decisions based upon the advice of a doctor that is not qualified in occupational health, the advice can be challenged by the employee.
What do the different occupational health qualifications mean?
Like different ranks in the Army, there are different levels of occupational health qualification. The entry-level qualification in occupational health is a Diploma in Occupational Medicine (DOccMed or Dip OH), awarded by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine.
The Diploma in Occupational Medicine is designed for medical practitioners who are working part-time in occupational medicine. It is frequently taken by GP’s adding to their portfolio by providing occupational health services to companies.
The DOccMed Diploma is the minimum required to competently advise employers. The course usually takes at least two weeks. A written and oral examination must be passed.
Some doctors also take an Advanced Diploma (Adv Dip OH), in addition to the core Diploma, which demonstrates a specialist commitment to the discipline.
The Faculty of Occupational Medicine
Full-time specialists in occupational health will be Members or Fellows of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. This level of expertise is shown as MFOM or FFOM after a doctors’ name.
In order to gain recognition by the Faculty, these specialist doctors have had in-depth training and experience in occupational medicine. They are judged to be “fully knowledgeable in occupational medicine theory, practice and delivery”.
There are some Associate Members of the Faculty designated by AFOM after their names. The holders have core knowledge but are not ‘specialists’ and the qualification has been withdrawn.
There are more specialist areas within occupational health too. Additional qualifications are required to advise businesses competently in aviation, ionising radiation or disability assessment.
The Specialist Register
In medicine, the term ‘Specialist’ has a defined and specific legal meaning. A doctor can only be called a specialist in a field if they are included in the GMC Specialist Register. The register states in which field they have expertise.
A doctor cannot be called a Consultant without being on the specialist register, appropriate to the field of practice.
Occupational health physicians
If you need advice to help manage an employee with a health issue, it is essential to get the advice from an appropriately qualified doctor. Getting advice from a GP is not enough to clearly demonstrate you are meeting the requirements set out in law.
Occupational health advice from a doctor who does not have a formal occupational health qualification can be challenged by an employee.
The only defensible route for employers to get occupational health advice is to obtain it from a doctor with a formal qualification. DOccMed, Dip OH, Adv Dip OH, AFOM, MFOM and FFOM are the only qualifications that matter. If a doctor does not have at least one, buyer beware.
All the team of doctors at Occupational Health Assessment Limited are Members of Fellows of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. They exceed the relevant minimum qualifications and each has at a minimum of fifteen years’ post-graduate experience. That means you can fully rely on their advice.
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