NHS staff on lower pay and junior workers are more likely to go off sick than senior colleagues, according to a new report.
Those working in parts of England with high deprivation are also significantly more likely to report absence than staff working in more affluent areas.
Healthcare assistants have the highest average rate of absence (6.5%), followed by ambulance staff (6.3%), and nurses, midwives and health visitors (5.2%).
There are wide variations around the country when it comes to NHS sickness absence, with some organisations having a rate of 1.6% and others reporting 6.8%.
Overall, the North East has the highest sickness rate on average, with the lowest seen in London.
Mental health and learning disability trusts, as well as ambulance trusts have some of the highest rates, according to the study from the Audit Commission.
It says the NHS could save £290 million if sickness absence rates were reduced to the lowest 25%.
Staff sickness absence in the NHS is estimated to cost £1.7 billion a year, and is higher than in the private sector.
Deprivation and staff pay grade account for 61% of the variation in hospital trust absence and 38% in primary care trusts (PCTs), according to the study.
Experts are unclear exactly why deprivation and pay scale influence absence rates so much, although “morale and ability to control one’s work” may play a role for those who are lower paid.
However, the remaining variation is down to “systematic differences” between NHS organisations and the way they manage, support and motivate their staff, the study says.
Factors may include how long-term sickness absence is managed by an organisation, and whether musculoskeletal conditions could be eased by better training on the right way to lift patients or use equipment.
Andy McKeon, managing director of health at the Audit Commission, said: “Managers need to be realistic about what they can achieve and accept that some staff, such as frontline workers who deal with sickly patients all day, are likely to have more days off sick than, for example, those without direct patient care responsibilities.”
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