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NHS sick leave rates ‘still too high’ in Wales

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Absentee rates due to sickness among NHS staff in Wales are still too high despite being reduced to 14 days per year per worker, says a report from the Auditor General for Wales.

The Auditor General for Wales, Jeremy Colman, has called for ‘good practice’ in an attempt to cut additional staff time, which totalled £6m a year since 2004.

The report reveals that although £24m in staff time was saved between April 2004 and March 2008, this was not enough to meet Welsh Assembly targets.

Mr Colman said that these should now be abandoned in favour of a ‘smarter approach to target setting which reflects the circumstances of each of the new local and national NHS bodies, with a focus on continuous improvement’.

The assembly has set all trusts a rolling annual target of a 4.2% rate of sickness absence. Since April 2004, the average has been between 5.3% and 5.4%.

Between the various trusts, absence rates still vary greatly – between 4.1% to 7%, and the report states that most trusts doubt whether the 4.2% target represented a realistic goal.

The report also recommends agreed performance indicators for occupational health services, and that the assembly should produce regular benchmarking reports.

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