Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

NHS Managers accused of confidentiality breaches

  • 1 Comment

Fears have been raised that NHS managers are attempting to access confidential information about nurses’ medical conditions and mental health problems.

A report for the government warns that occupational health workers are being asked to divulge details about NHS staff, who use the services for help with problems linked to drug and alcohol misuse, depression and other chronic health conditions.

The Boorman Review into NHS health and wellbeing said: “This is unacceptable and it is important that all managers recognise the confidentiality of occupational health advice to staff and do not seek such information.”

It said confidentiality was taken very seriously by occupational health providers but staff felt this was not always the case.

There was a widespread view that services were centred more on the needs of employers than staff, with one person saying it had become a “tool for management”.

The review recommended that management training emphasised the role of occupational health services in addition to the confidentiality issues involved.

Unison deputy head of health Mike Jackson told Nursing Times: “Anything less than a guarantee of confidentiality would seriously undermine the confidence of staff in occupational health services.

“In the long term, it could hinder occupational health departments playing a positive role in promoting staff health and well being and ensuring safe and healthy workplaces.”

Managers can request information on their staff from occupational health departments, but employees must give their consent and have the right to see any information before it is passed on, he added.

The review said confidentiality was taken very seriously by occupational health providers but staff felt this was not always the case.

There was a widespread view that services were centred more on the needs of employers than staff, with one person saying it had become a “tool for management”.

The review recommended that management training emphasised the role of occupational health services in addition to the confidentiality issues involved.

The findings may partly explain why the review found many NHS staff are not using occupational health services. Other reasons were the perceived inconvenience of locations and opening hours.

In addition, the review said occupational health played a “reactive and limited role” and was set “unrealistic income-generation targets”.

It called for NHS staff health and wellbeing to be given a bigger focus given that 10.3 million working days lost each year due to sickness absence.

One in 10 vacancies filled by staffing agency Pulse in 2008-09 was to cover staff who were off sick, up from 7.8 per cent the previous year.

Managing director of nursing Marcella Pergande said this was due to the “huge pressures” to improve NHS performance, in addition to hospital patients with more complex health needs.

She said: “A lot is expected of nurses and the environment has changed over the last couple of years, as have the expectations of patients, families and relatives.”

Occupational health was one of the hardest areas to recruit to as many practitioners preferred the conditions and working environment offered by the private sector, she said.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

Has your manager ever tried to gain information about staff from occupational health workers?

  • I've been fortunate to have good experiences of Occupational Health depts, but this story resonates.
    I declared a 'mental health condition' on a form for a CPD module. The tutors (registered nurses so should have been acting within Code of Conduct guidance) felt it necessary to inform my potential future manager, and a future colleague. When challenged they said they still felt it was appropriate and would do again. What dangerous condition do I suffer from? - Depression, that 'common cold' one, which I had always been honest with Occ Health about, and supported by them (& that doesn't mean they've always given me easy answers). But the breach of confidentiality has had serious health/work consequences.

    I understand why the Clothier Report made the recommendations it did, but unfortunately it stigmatises those of us trying to get on with our lives, and would anyone intending to be the next Beverly Allitt tick the 'yes' boxes?

    Occupational Health have specialist knowledge. They deserve support in what they do, and the enlightenment I've certainly seen from them, to keep us in the workplace, where our life experiences can actually be beneficial in understanding the trials of some of our patients. Pressure from HR/Management to undermine their work is unwarranted. Occ Health already walk a difficult tightrope between employer/patient safety/facilitating employees to stay at work. Leave them to exercise their expertise and act on their advice - that will get the best attendance/performance out of the workforce.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.