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December 3, 2010

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Government welcomes accreditation efforts of OH-services community

A new accreditation system for occupational-health (OH) providers will help the Government deliver its new strategy to improve public health in England.

Led by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine (FOM), the Safe Effective Quality Occupational Health Service (SEQOHS) accreditation scheme was launched at a conference on 1 December, building on new OH standards for OH service-providers introduced in January this year. The standards themselves were proposed by Dame Carol Black in 2008, as part of her review of how to improve the health and well-being of the working-age population.

The overarching aim of SEQOHS is to provide OH services with a framework for quality assurance, and so help raise standards in this field. Similar to the Occupational Safety Consultants Register, but designed for organisations rather than individuals, the SEQOHS should help those purchasing or commissioning services choose a competent provider.

The Government’s White Paper, ‘Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England’, which was launched earlier this week, makes reference to the new accreditation scheme, and states: “All employers will be encouraged to contract only those services that are fully accredited, and to seek preventative interventions.”

A voluntary scheme, SEQOHS applies to both NHS and private OH services, from single-handed practices to large nationwide providers. To gain SEQOHS accreditation, an organisation must provide clear evidence that it has met all of the SEQOHS standards for the relevant services it offers, as well as maintaining the standards and providing annual submissions.

Welcoming the scheme, and speaking in a personal capacity, ex-IOSH president Paul Faupel told SHP he has been involved in the procurement process for contractor-provided OH services on a number of occasions during his career. Had the SEQOHS standards been available at these times, he said they would have “saved a lot of time and effort, and established a credible level field of competitive tendering, and probably saved a lot of the hurdle-jumping by prospective providers associated particularly with public-sector procurement”.

He described the programme “as a golden opportunity for the UK OH-services community to set a world-leading example that is potentially transferable across national boundaries, particularly where multinationals wish to ensure consistent standards of OHS provision wherever they may be operating”.

Asked whether the OSCR scheme could learn anything from SEQOHS, or vice-versa, he remarked: “I can think of nothing better than the OSCR and SEQOHS teams getting together to compare notes and share their experiences.”

He also pointed out that one essential difference between the clinical profession and the health and safety profession is that the former is regulated by law under the General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council, “so the SEQOHS will probably have that to fall back on in the event that there is any malpractice”.

Underpinning the accreditation system and application process is a dedicated website, www.seqohs.org According to Paul Nicholson, the FoM’s clinical lead for the OH services standards, the site provides a centralised, coordinated approach to accreditation, as well as support tools and information through an integrated knowledge management system.

Operation of the scheme will be the responsibility of the Royal College of Physicians of London, which was appointed partly on account of its experience of running the national endoscopy service accreditation scheme.

Both service-providers and potential assessors can now register on the SEQOHS website at www.seqohs.org

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