Occupational Health (OH) professionals support faster returns to work and prevent ill-health-related job loss, a crucial skill (DWP, 2021), and yet we have a workforce deficit!

OH is a part of health care that looks after those in the workplace, considering how work affects a person’s health and how someone’s health affects their work (CIPD). It sounds simple, but it isn’t! The World Health Organization (WHO) gives a more in-depth explanation which gives us a better idea of the science and practice of the speciality, i.e. the breadth and depth:

  • Maintaining and promoting workers’ health and capacity to work
  • Improving working conditions and environment conducive to health and safety
  • The development of work organisation and culture to improve health and safety.

Never has there been a time when the profession, which positively affects the health of people at work, employers, the economy and wider public health, including health inequalities (DWP, 2023), been so needed. Yet, there is a lack of OH professionals and recognition of this is widespread. Jonathan Wensley, ESH professional, 2024 says, “Moving into OH has never been more important, with a massive disparity between needs and resources”. OH has no financial support from the NHS (employers fund OH provision).

OH is such a diverse profession, touching so many industries, roles and tasks, and the support aims to assist individuals with their choices, providing help to understand what OH entails, transferable skills, education and training and career pathways. 

Janet O'Neill

In this country, we have a general workforce in poorer health and more people than ever falling out of or being out of work due to ill health (ONS 2023). The focus on OH as part of the solution has intensified (Response to Health is Everyone’s Business, 2021) and there is a call for universal access to OH (Shemtob, BMJ, 2023). However, less than 50% of employees utilise OH, and with a shrinking OH workforce (Norrie et al, 2024), universal access is not feasible unless something changes.

As you can tell from the description, OH is not a straightforward profession. A joint work and health task force led by the National School of Occupational Health (NSOH) and the Joint Health and Work Directorate (DWP & DHSC) identified key areas as: a need to understand why OH was not a popular career choice, both in the undergraduate and graduate healthcare workforce, and a lack of funding for OH qualifications (O’Neill, QNI, 2023). For the former, poor awareness and understanding were outcomes of research led by Norrie et al, 2024.

In addition, we hear from OH employers who complain about the poor quality of some candidates applying for roles, without previous experience. They noted a lack of understanding of what the role entailed and high turnover from some who had joined OH, but whose experience did not match their expectation of a role with minimal stress.

For individuals to gain a better understanding, there needs to be a way of transferring that information. Choosing to undertake a qualification in OH, without having worked in OH, takes a significant commitment without an understanding. Positively, over the last year, there seems to be an increased awareness, with a marked upsurge in the number of individuals approaching OH Facebook groups and organisations for advice on OH as a career, and what knowledge is needed to support a move into the profession.


All these factors led the NSOH and SOM to embark on a mentoring project, gaining insights from a group of senior OH professionals. A commitment by SOM to the development of a website and by the group on how this would be run, including formal agreements, has come to fruition, and the website was launched on 19th April.

The mentors are all volunteers who are keen to give back to the profession they love. Coming from the multidisciplinary team WHO describes, anyone from a nurse, doctor, allied health professional or technician can be supported. Individual sessions will be supported in a hybrid coaching and mentoring approach, with wide-ranging resources.

OH is such a diverse profession, touching so many industries, roles and tasks, and the support aims to assist individuals with their choices, providing help to understand what OH entails, transferable skills, education and training and career pathways.  There is also support for CV and interview skills, plus a list of shadowing opportunities which will support an even deeper understanding of the profession. The outcome aims for higher quality candidates, committed to a profession that they understand on entry.

Mentors are supported with links to training, regular meetings, guides and more. It’s a great way to support the next generation of OH clinicians, whilst growing and developing themselves. Over 25 mentors have signed up already.

So far, the feedback has been wonderful. There is a strong possibility that this initiative could support the growth of our OH Workforce, with a subsequent positive impact on people in work or returning to work, and more efficient employers, the economy and public health.  Evidence (Wadell and Burton, 2006) that those out of work are twice as likely to need more medication, and doctor and hospital visits, shows that a sufficient and quality OH workforce will also have a positive impact on the demand for NHS services.

The mentoring website can be found here: Mentoring (ohcareers.info)

For all other information – please email janet.oneill6@nhs.net

Janet O’Neill (RN, Dip OH, MSc)

Deputy Head of the National School of Occupational Health (NSOH)

Janet is an Occupational Health Nurse Specialist. Her role at the school is to support the workforce development of OH nurses and Allied Health Professionals in numbers and quality.


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