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Vital Service Under Threat

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

National leader Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service in funding crisis

For three years Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service (SOHAS) has been funded by the Sheffield Health Action Zone, however this arrangement is set to finish in April and bids to the Sheffield Primary Care Trusts have so far been unsuccessful.

SOHAS believes that services which prevent ill health in the work place, as well as helping to cure people who are already ill, should be part of primary health care. The four Primary Care Trusts that cover the City of Sheffield have been approached and asked to take on the responsibility for funding the Occupational Health Service but feedback so far is not very promising. In fact if funding isn’t resolved very quickly the service will have to close down at the end of March.

Now in its 22nd year, SOHAS has consistently led the field in its work with patients suffering from occupational health problems. Over the years it has campaigned on many of these, like occupational deafness, emphysema in steel workers, hard metal diseases, work related asthma, health and safety for home-workers and engineering and cutlery workers, the long term effects of solvent poisoning, and work related stress which grows ever more serious.

It has established a presence in a number of GP’s surgeries in Sheffield, offering help for patients who are off work as a result of their ill health getting them specialist treatment and advice, not just in getting better but also in improving the working environment where necessary to prevent further problems.

Mark Furniss for example is a CNC machinist working for a local tool manufacturer.  For some time he has been visiting his GP, with a sore throat and a cough that clears up when he is on holiday.  Recently his GP suggested that he discussed his problem with the practice’s occupational health adviser as it seemed likely that the illness was work related.

The SOHAS adviser, Simon Pickvance, discussed the likely explanations with Mark and diagnosed exposure to contaminated oil mists. He then gave him information on how to control the substance to prevent further problems. Mark’s bosses responded positively to his situation and were keen to improve his working environment, so now Mark’s throat problems are better and he needn’t have time off work, a solution that suits everyone.

Ironically SOHAS has just completed a feasibility study for the Department of Work and Pensions for a Sheffield based pilot scheme (Job Retention and Rehabilitation) that could bring £2.1m into Sheffield to help people at risk of losing their jobs by finding effective ways of keeping them in suitable work. However, without funding for their core service, SOHAS may have to close and this important initiative will be lost too.

SOHAS have appealed for help to Meg Munn, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley who said today

“The importance of a good working environment to public health, to individual workers and to the effectiveness of business is now well recognised. Work-related ill health costs everyone money; employers, workers, insurers, the health service and the social security budget. We cannot afford to lose the vital work that SOHAS carries out.“

For further information please contact Simon Pickvance, Sheffield Occupational Health Advisory Service on 0114 2755760 or email on sohas@sohas.free-online.co.uk

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