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Union slams 'disgraceful' critics of NHS staff sickness record


UNISON has rejected a study which suggests that the annual sickness levels among NHS staff is having a negative impact on patient care.

Occupational health expert Dr Steve Boorman conducted the independent review which found that NHS workers took 10.7 days of annual sickness on average, compared to 6.4 days in private firms.

UNISON said it was a “disgrace” that the review was being used to criticise NHS workers who faced physical attacks in their job. The union warned that the findings were being “twisted” to promote private companies looking to take lucrative work away from the NHS.

“The report should not be used as a stick to beat hard-working NHS staff, who day in day out deliver excellent patient care,” said Unison head of health Karen Jennings. “You cannot compare sickness rates in the NHS with those in the general population - it’s like trying to compare apples and oranges.”

“Almost 56,000 NHS workers were physically assaulted in England alone last year - that will obviously have led to staff needing time off,” said Ms Jennings.

“Working in the NHS is physically and mentally demanding and back injuries, needlestick injuries and cross-infections all take a toll on workers’ health.”


Readers' comments (4)

  • I work on a secure psychiatric ward. I was injured at work going to the assistance of a colleague who was being assaulted. An inexperienced bank nurse lost control of one of the patients hands and I ended up with a whiplash injury to my neck. I was off work for nine days, returned to work, and then 6 weeks later had time off again because I aggravated the injury. I am now subject to the Trusts sickness policy because I have had four sick absenses in a rolling year. The other two were as the result of a norovirus (which closed the ward and you could therefore say was an industrial injury; i.e. sickness as a direct result of my work environment) and flu (I was on holiday during the vaccination schedule). Maybe as the article says; when you look at the reasons why individuals are off sick there's generally more to it than that. I've had two colleagues who had to transfer to other jobs because of industrial injury (i.e. assaulted at work and both spent nearly 8 months off each) and another colleague who was medically retired due to stress. Reports that compare NHS staff to staff employed in the private sector is always good copy for the national press. The RCN and Unison should be providing a more robust defence and really challenging these figures. For some of us the reality of our daily jobs means we are on a par with police and prison officers when it comes to assault and the sick absence that results. Also other nurses work in environments that make extreme demands on them mentally and physically. To the national press I would say walk a week in our shoes before you criticise the levels of illness, also remember that the figure is an average. Like I said earlier I had two colleagues who were off for 8 months, I've also got a number of colleagues that have less than the 6.4 days qouted for the private sector.

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  • It is a shame that hard working staff of the NHS are yet again the brunt of a thoughtless attack. I too work in mental health and every day struggle to provide care to my clients; this in the face of staff shortages which would not be tolerated in the private sector.
    We are frequently assaulted verbally and occasionally physically. We are asked to do the near impossible and prevent others from harming themselves or others, and God forbid we get it wrong, as we are then made to feel that it was our fault.
    Is it any wonder that staff are stressed and go off on the sick or leave altogether.

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  • So sickness levels in the NHS are high, well surely that can't be a surprise to anyone. There cannot be one area of nursing that doesn't produce high sickness in staff. Causes - assaults, bullying, chronic shortages of staff (nursing staff that is), excessive & increasing demands from patients - all leading to increasing stress levels. I work as a community midwife and for the last few weeks myself & my colleagues have had no breaks in our working day and then found ourselves working unpaid overtime. This is happening on a daily basis.
    Has Dr Boorman thought about the reduction in junior doctors hours? What has happened to the work that they cannot fit in to their hours? NURSES/MIDWIVES ARE DOING IT.

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  • I have recently had my contracted terminated due to sikness levels over the past few years,all this was actually due to personnal problems apart from one incident which was an mi. What are u supposed to do when ur sick,go into work only to be sent home again(which i`ve had done),which then leaves the area you work in short staffed. Surely to ring in early so the shift can be covered is better than that. My quote of the day is "Whatever happened to the caring nhs,be it staff or patients". I am currently appealing against this decision so therefore cannot say much more. My only hope is that the nhs review there findings and find the real timewasters in the nhs who give us this bad review

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