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'Sicknote' culture in NHS is a myth


A new report has challenged the myth that public sector workers look for opportunities to pull a sickie after it found many struggled into work while unwell.

The TUC surveyed over 2,000 adults and discovered a fifth of public servants had carried on working in the past month while being poorly.

It also revealed that two out of 10 public sector staff had gone into work in the past year feeling ill. This figure was 5% higher compared to employees in private companies.

The TUC said the findings raised concerns over Government claims that there were large savings to be made from tackling absence in the public sector, which includes the NHS, education and councils.

The union organisation added that public sector workers took longer periods off work when sick, but pointed out that many worked in stressful and dangerous public sector jobs that could cause injury.

Only one in 10 public sector workers said they had never been to work when they were too ill, the study found.

One in three public sector workers said they went to work when ill because they didn’t want to let people down, while others didn’t want colleagues to be landed with extra work.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: “It is a myth that there are big, quick and easy savings from new policies that assume that sickness absence is mostly skiving.”


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Readers' comments (7)

  • The idea that sickness can be managed is a joke. If I am ill I take time off. Otherwise I work.

    If I were a patient I would prefer to know that those caring for me were well and not likely to pass on their infections to me.

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  • The trouble is not everyone thinks the same. I have worked in both industry and in the health service. In industry if you keep having time off or you don't perform you're given your cards. In the NHS it's almost impossible to stamp-out irresponsible behaviour. We've all come across people (not just nurses) who take sick-time in the NHS like holiday; as long as I don't take too much off no-one will notice! Every day lost through "throwing a sickie" is money lost to the NHS; money which could go into treating patients and securing nursing services.

    Why should a newly appointed member of staff be able to claim 6 months full pay as sick time when they've only just started the job?

    While there are people who abuse the "perks" in the NHS we will never ensure funding is used correctly. Maybe it's time for a re-think on NHS terms and conditions of service?

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  • I agree, the NHS is its own worst enemy. There should be a six month probationary period for all new employees and sickness should be unpaid for the first year. This is the stance many companies take - in fact I know of several companies who will not pay for time taken as sickness until the employee has been working for more than two years. Perhaps if the NHS adopted this position is would save a fortune!

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  • Interesting responses above. I was under the impression we were in an industry that took care of the sick and treated people with compassion and understanding. I wonder how much of a fortune the NHS would gain if they took care of the staff feeling enough to pull a sickie, and have a happy, healthy workforce? I wonder what effect managers trained in interpersonal and self awareness would have in dealing with this issue instead of an intimidating and punitive approach? I know which environment I would rather be working in.

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  • I have just finished my first 6 months in my new RN post and had my first day off. I felt really poorly but more so guilty at the extra pressure it would put on my colleagues. There are those that take the mickey with sickness but they are in the minority and always noticed!!

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  • I imagine that a high stress low control occupation such as nursing coupled with shift work and nights as well as being exposed to anachronistic working practices and ineffective leadership could lead to higher sickness levels than your average office worker.

    However, you we all know colleagues who abuse the system and call in sick at the drop of a hat. 12 month probationary contracts should be mandatory in the public sector - then we wouldn't be left carrying the load of the inept management, too spineless to confront poor performance and incompetance.

    I'd be happier if the study was done by the RCN or Unison rather than the TUC, it might be a bit more relevant.

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  • why should nurses be expected to go to work when they are too ill to work. They need to protect themselves from the worsening of their condition so that they do not develop a chronic problem and then need even more time off work. Furthermore, why should they be at work possibly spreading germs around a hospital so that their colleagues may then also need to go off sick and they have no business spreading germs in an environment responsible for looking after vulnerable patients. Illness necessitating sick leave is a part of the human condition to which no individual is immune. If the indiviudal is so stressed it necessitates sick leave then there is something wrong with the employing organisation!

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