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Alarm at continued failure to tackle NHS staff sickness levels

NHS trusts in England spent more than £1bn on sick pay in the past three years, new research shows.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) said that too many trusts in England are failing to implement key recommendations made in 2009 to reduce staff sickness absence.

Data obtained by the group shows that 19.3 million sick days recorded from 2009 onwards were attributable to musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain.

A spokeswoman said that the figures show that many trusts have failed to act on recommendations in the government-backed Boorman Review which said that the NHS could save £555m a year by introducing effective health and wellbeing strategies and giving staff rapid access to physiotherapy and other occupational health services.

However, 37% of the 163 trusts that responded to the Freedom of Information requests by the CSP admitted to not having a strategy in place. And nearly one in five did not offer staff rapid access to physiotherapy.

CSP chief executive Phil Gray said: “The NHS takes a double hit when an employee is unfit to work - there is the cost of covering that absence, and a gap in provision that can lead to cancellations and longer waiting times.

“In the current climate, we frequently hear that services are being cut because of budget constraints. Yet NHS trusts seem to be deliberately failing to implement Boorman and this blatantly obvious way to save money.

“Instead of cutting services to reduce costs, they must invest in rapid access physiotherapy and other occupational health schemes that keep staff in work to help deliver the savings that are needed.”

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “Over recent years, staff sickness levels in the NHS have been coming down and this is a credit to the excellent and often creative health and well-being programmes seen in many NHS organisations.

“The NHS is facing pressures on a number of fronts and we can hold on to this momentum and keep sickness coming down against the odds. We have also recently agreed changes to sick pay arrangements.

“Investing in the health and well-being of staff makes sense in any organisation. In the current financial climate we need to make sure that we are getting the best possible value for taxpayers’ money. In the NHS, we have the added impetus of needing to make sure that our staff are well and in work so that patients get timely and quality care.”

Sign our Speak Out Safely petition to support a transparent and open NHS. We are calling on the government to implement recommendations from the Francis report that will increase protection for staff who raise concerns about patient care.



Sign our Speak Out Safely petition to support a transparent and open NHS. We are calling on the government to implement recommendations from the Francis report that will increase protection for staff who raise concerns about patient care.

Readers' comments (9)

  • Perhaps staff go off sick because they are feeling so stressed because of unsafe staffing levels, inadequate skill mix, unsupportive management, patients and relatives complaints. Maybe some staff feel it is the only alternative when they need extended compassionate leave or emergency days off or when they just cannot cope anymore.
    Maybe staff could be offered priority treatment instead of having to wait months on full pay for tests, scans etc - that's before they even have an operation.
    Perhaps if staff were treated with respect and consideration they might not go off sick so often - what did people think would happen when you expect nurses to work without taking a break, without having anything to eat or drink, working long stretches, working nights followed by day shifts?

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  • My trust did nothing to encourage healthy habits among staff. Of over 3000 staff claiming business miles, only three of them claimed these miles for cycling. The facilities for cyclists are minimal whereas large areas are given over to car parking. Of over 400 staff with the same post as mine, only two cycled, so it can't be that it is not possible to cycle, it is due in a large part to the massive financial incentive staff are given to drive, which, in many cases, more than pays for their cars. The NHS can issue as many documents as they like but, until they pressure trusts to implement them, they are worthless.

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  • I would love to cycle to work. But theres no where to put a bike. Plus starting at 7am and then not finishing until 8:30pm When its cold,dark,wet and you havent had a break all day is not my idea of healthy fun exercise.
    Maybe not working people into the ground and allowing them their unpaid breaks would be a start. or having canteens open that serve healthy meals would be another.
    Nurses will always have more sickness than someone working in for example asda as we are exposed constantly to bugs and illness. None of us have immune systems any different than Joe Public.

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  • Sickness is coming down, not because of the "excellent and often creative health and well- being programmes" but because of the draconian sickness policies that limit you to so many episodes a year or you have a disciplinary hearing whether you have a condition that is covered by the disability discrimination act or not. Occupational hazards such as D&V, chest infections etc also count, even though these are still covered by the new AfC sickness policy. There is overwhelming evidence that shift work affects health, including being implicated in obesity, type 2 Diabetes and other chronic conditions, it also adversely affects the immune system. This is due to working against the Circadian rhythm. Trusts have an obligation to ensure tha health and safety of their staff as far as is practicable under the 1974 H&SAW Act and other regulations attached to the act, this includes breaks, technically if someone cannot take their break then the trust could be reported to the HSE, if someone is off ill for more than three days ue to illness picked up at work this has to be reported by the trust under RIDDOR.

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  • The sickness policy is being implemented in a nonsensical way, I have been told to put a team member on a stage one review for a single period of absence that lasted a few weeks, is not related to work and cannot reoccur - the appendix is out. She hasn't had any other time off in ten years. I have resisted this on the grounds it is more likely to upset her and make her go off sick instead of dragging herself in if she is less than 100%. I have pointed out how unreasonable it would be but was told that wasn't the point - rules must be followed. I feel the need to make a stand on this.

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  • Treat staff better, give them better working conditions, pay and a work/life balance, and you will have a happier workforce and a lower absence rate.

    Until then, I can't blame any staff for saying enough is enough.

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  • 37% having no strategy in place? Doesn't sound too bad on the face of it but I wonder how many of the 63% actually take health and wellbeing seriously. My Trust has just introduced a 3 year strategy for maintaining the health, wellbeing and sociao-economic status of it employees. Right about the same time it has put forward plans to downband about 120 low paid employees and has withdrawn the smoke free environment policy because it is too difficult to police!

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  • I imagine anybody who goes off sick, for whatever reason and even if it is work induced, is suspect and made to feel guilty which is hardly conducive to rapid and complete recovery. Memories of such treatment can stay with individuals for years and affect their health and make it difficult to take time off sick in the future when they really need it.

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  • I was quite surprised when I applied for jobs as a mental health nurse that my impressive attendance record, 1 day off sick in three years as a student on placement, didn't carry more clout. None of the people who interviewed me mentioned my strong attendance record. I've also seen a number of newly qualified nurses waltz their way into a job even though they've had thirty plus days off sick as a student.

    At my current place of work, there's a number of staff who turn up to every shift. I'm one of them. However, there's also a number of staff members who constantly phone in sick. In the majority of these situations it's a cold, or some random body pain, or stress.

    I think where my branch of the NHS fails is, we're not hard enough on staff sickness. We let people get away with being sick all the time. We need to tell these people to shape up or get out; we don't do that. And I think when interviewing for new jobs, managers need to view staff attendance record in higher regard than they currently do.

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