Cambridge Health is caring for the carers
Thousands of people work at Cambridge's hospitals and it's one department's job to help keep them safe and deal with health issues.
There’s a small army of staff at Addenbrooke’s who are dedicated to looking after us, should we ever need their care and attention. But there’s also a department which aims to improve the health, safety and general well-being of the hospital trust’s workforce.
“Our primary function is to protect the health of our staff,” said Giles Wright, head of service at Cambridge Health at Work, Cambridge University Hospitals’ occupational health department. “We’re here to manage the impact of staff’s health on their work.”
Giles got the bug for healthcare while working for St Clare Hospice near Harlow and previously ran the voluntary services department at Addenbrooke’s.
“Before that I was a designer – I used to design Action Man toys.”
Cambridge Health at Work, which also provides services for West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust in Bury St Edmunds, is located on the Addenbrooke’s site and has a team of around 40 specialist and administrative staff, including two full-time registrars, technicians and registered nurses working in Cambridge and Suffolk.
They provide around 8,000 appointments a year which include pre-employment health assessments, health surveillance programmes, immunisation advice and free seasonal flu vaccine, environmental monitoring and work station assessments, health promotion and confidential advice.
Giles said: “When staff suffer ill health we support them here as well. We don’t replace a GP service and we’re not an emergency service, but we work alongside an individual GP and we support them and their manager. The manager will make a referral if they’ve got concerns about an individual’s health being affected by their work and we’ll see them.”
The centre is the only occupational health service in the East of England that is a training centre of occupational health physicians.
Each year they complete around £750,000 of external work, from bus driver medicals to support for workers exposed to hazards such as dust, noise and irritants.
“It’s an interesting dynamic and it’s quite complex,” said Giles.
“We sit alongside a human resources function, an individual’s GP, the individual themselves and their manager. And we have to manage that relationship and manage the advice accordingly – making sure we’re doing what’s right for all of those groups.
“It’s challenging, although the team are very a good team who work hard and we’re getting good results.”
Approximately 80 per cent of the management referral cases that the service sees remain in work or return to work as a result.
Among the common complaints are skin conditions caused by staff regularly washing their hands and wearing medical gloves.
Musculoskeletal problems are the highest reason for sickness within the trust – and a dedicated physiotherapy team has been helping to reduce that. The team also supports staff who have become too ill to continue working.
“Although it is rare, we also have people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness while they’re still in employment. We see those people and try to help manage the impact on their work,” Giles said.
The team is based in a purpose-built, three-storey building and the growth of the service has meant they will expand into a space in the roof this summer.
Cambridge Health at Work also offers talking therapies and hosts cognitive behavioural therapy practitioners two days a week as well as having a psychiatrist attached to the service for those with mental health problems.
They also work with managers to help them identify those who are struggling and help them get support for the individual.
Proactive work is very important, Giles explains. Recently the team vaccinated 75.4 per cent of the hospital’s workforce against flu. This is well over the 50.6 per cent the trust has averaged over the past three years.
“As general health population changes, we’re living longer and we’re working longer, we’re living with more illnesses, we’ve got multiple things that are going wrong and that’s the same in the workforce because we don’t leave it at the door when we come into work. So, the work is increasing,” said Giles.
“It’s a very different job to others in the hospital but we’re just as busy and just as important.
“We have that dual perceptive on the world – they’re our colleagues that we’re seeing but they’re also our patients and that can be quite hard. It’s quite emotionally demanding.
“There’s always something new to learn and always something to respond to.”