Nurses who suffer from back problems will have better access to occupational health services under plans set out by the government.
The government last week accepted in full the final report of the Boorman review on health staff and wellbeing. The independent review called for employers to pay for services such as help with injuries caused by lifting heavy patients, handling techniques training, counselling services and advice on healthy eating.
It said: “Spending on staff health is sometimes erroneously considered a poor use of scarce resources.
“As our earlier [interim] report made clear, we believe that investment in staff health and well-being services will more than pay for itself through reducing sickness absence and improving productivity.”
Staff sickness cost the NHS £555m a year through absences and the use of bank and agency staff, the report stated.
It found nearly half of these absences are caused by musculoskeletal disorders, and more than a quarter are due to stress, depression and anxiety. Cutting sickness absence by a third would create an extra 33.4 million extra working days a year, the review found.
It also called for a qualified consultant occupational health nurse in each region.
In a letter to trusts last week, health secretary Andy Burnham said: “It is imperative that NHS staff receive the same level of support for their health and wellbeing that they deliver to one million patients every 36 hours.”
He added: “I expect NHS organisations to implement your [the review’s] recommendations, develop or refresh strategies, invest in their health and wellbeing services and to deliver significant improvements in sickness absence and improved staff health and wellbeing.”
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “We know that investing in proactive health and wellbeing services, in particular occupational health nurses, will save the NHS money which could be channelled into patient care.
“The NHS has a moral and legal duty to protect staff from the work related causes of ill health,” he added.