Next Article Absent mindedOn 1 Jan 2000 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Startingout as an in-house department, MTL is now established as an independent OHservices provider, specialising in sickness absence programmes. By Eliza O’Driscoll MTL Medical Services started out in the public sector as a team of seven oreight nurses providing an in-house service to Liverpool bus company. When the company was privatised in 1986 the OH service began to look forexternal clients and eventually became an independent provider of OH services.Its most long-standing client is Mersey Travel, the company it stemmed from, butit now have a long list of public and private sector clients. MTL’s first London client was Enfield Borough Council, which it acquired in1996. “We saw the advert in OH Journal and thought we would give it a go –and we got it,” says professional development manager Graham Johnson. MTLthen opened a London office after its parent company bought part of LondonTransport and rapidly acquired other clients including the London councils ofCamden, Havering and Lambeth. The company now employs 54 staff. With a long and varied client list MTL offers a wide range of services frompre-employment medicals to sickness absence programmes, health surveillance,health promotion, counselling and vaccinations. Attendance Sickness absence is one of the main concerns for many of MTL’s clients.”We do a two-hour session on attendance management for human resourcesmanagers when we take on a client,” says Johnson, “and we will givethem training.” The approach the client decides to take to sickness absence is entirely upto them, Johnson continues. “We will do whatever they want us to do, butwe will not be compromised either as a business or as OH professionals.” “Different clients may have different priorities,” points outbusiness director Julie King. “One may have a welfare-oriented ethos whileothers want you to police their employees.” Stress Does the team find that as workplace stress becomes more widely publicisedemployers are looking to them for help on the issue? “Employers are notresponding as dramatically or as fast as you would expect. If I was a humanresources person I would be sitting up and taking notice a bit faster,”says Johnson. “Some managers see stress as different from any otherhazard. It should be treated like back pain.” And senior occupational health adviser Sue Jury believes employers need tomake sure they are better informed on the subject. “Very often they knowthey have to do something but they are not sure what,” she explains. “Some employees may go off sick with stress as a signal to employersthat something is wrong.” Johnson points out that people are no longer retire on grounds ofill-health. “Employers need to look at making reasonableadjustments,” he says. “For the past couple of years it has been a battleground. Managers arefrustrated by the fact that you cannot specify that someone is not fit foremployment,” he says. “Not telling them what they want to hear is the main criticism we get.You give an independent report to management that answers their questions butit is not what they want to hear.” Accuracy The Disability Discrimination Act has put the onus on occupational health toprovide management with accurate information about their legal duties,unpalatable though it might be. “A lot of case law is coming down on theside of the employee,” says Johnson. “Therefore there is a greateremphasis on reminding employers that if you did not do this before, you shoulddo it now.” “You have to explain to them that they have to be seen to considerredeployment, for instance,” says King. Jury illustrates this point withthe story of one employer losing a tribunal because they looked for a week to10 days to find a suitable alternative position for the claimant and thetribunal ruled that it was not long enough. What is the most difficult thing about the team’s role? “The range ofcompanies we look after is the most difficult thing we have to deal with,”says Johnson. “No two organisations will have the same mix ofrequirements.” For business development manager Chris Edwards adds,”We have to respond to the individual company by providing the OH servicein a cost effective way for them.” The MTL team enjoys the challenge of designing the right service for each ofits clients. “We like to advocate the use of nurse-based services wheneverwe can,” says King. But she goes on to say that it is not about imposingtheir idea of a correct occupational health service regardless of what theclient actually wants. “Our objective is to help companies achieve whatthey want to achieve,” she says. Turnaround One question that companies often ask them, says Johnson, is “If wewere to employ you, how soon would we seen the benefit in sickness absencereduction?” He emphasises that this is an impossible question to answer because making animpact on something as fundamental as sickness absence requires a concertedeffort from the organisation – it cannot simply be left to OH to sort out.”It is difficult to say we can reduce a firm’s sickness absence by acertain amount next year. They have a part to play in the process aswell.” The team sees a rosy future for the profession. “I think occupationalhealth is still in its growth. I see the future as a lot more information andintegration,” says King. “Now is a very good time to be in OH because the Government has put itfirmly on the agenda,” adds Johnson. So what skills should the occupational health nurse be bringing to theprofession as we head into the new millennium? “A good occupational healthnurse is the one with the right philosophy,” believes King. Johnson stresses the importance of looking beyond the strict terms of acontract. “A good occupational health nurse is one that can drive thecontract forward. There are an awful lot who just do as per contract and do notthink laterally,” he says. Occupational health team at MTL Medical ServicesJulie King – business development managerGraham Johnson – professional development managerChris Edwards – business development managerSusan Jury – senior occupational health adviser (South)Dr Steve Malleson – senior occupational health adviser (South) Related posts:No related photos.