NHS managers do not “buy in” to the health at work drive, the government’s national director for health and work has claimed.

Speaking at the launch of the Institute of Healthcare Management’s new code of conduct last week, Dame Carol Black said it was disappointing that only eight out of the 370 organisations that had signed up the government’s public health responsibility deal were from the NHS.

Launched last year, the deal encourages organisations to commit to improving the health of their employees and customers. Pledges relating to health at work include commitments on correct management of staff with chronic conditions, providing healthy food in staff canteens and encouraging employees to stop smoking.

Dame Carol said: “It’s really tough to get the buy-in of managers in the NHS. Individual chief executives always tell me they understand the agenda but they’re too busy or they don’t believe the business case.”

It’s quite different from any of the other sectors I have tried to engage.”

She said improving health and wellbeing of staff could was cost effective. She gave the example of York Teaching Hospital Foundation Trust which managed to reduce long term sickness absence by more than 40 per cent after investing £100,000 in a team of specialist nurses, physiotherapists and a clinical psychologist.