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Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust: we're a healthy staff champion

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Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust worked in partnership with West Sussex Primary Care Trust (PCT) put in place an occupational health physiotherapy service to reduce the level of musculoskeletal related sickness absence amongst the workforce.

The project has been a big success in delivering financial savings and providing a healthier workforce. It has also identified areas for training and development and a need to tackle some work based practices to ensure its sustained success.

SHA region

NHS South East Coast

The organisation

Worthing and Southlands Hospitals NHS Trust provides acute hospital services to around 300,000 people living in Worthing, Shoreham-by-Sea and the surrounding areas of West Sussex.

The occupational health physiotherapy service provides cover for 4500 members of staff at the acute trust and two local PCTs.

Project dates

September 2005 - to date

What we did and why

The occupational health physiotherapy service was developed in response to the high level of demand from staff with musculoskeletal injuries, and the associated high levels of sickness absence. It was hoped that a service dedicated to staff would:

  • improve access to specialist advice and treatment
  • reduce sickness absence and musculoskeletal injuries within the workforce
  • ensure that staff returned to work in a timely manner
  • improve communication between the occupational health and physiotherapy department
  • help in the development of joint working practices, including the implementation of appropriate return to work
  • rehabilitation packages.

How we did it

One part-time senior physiotherapist, employed jointly by the occupational health and physiotherapy departments, runs the service. This post consists of 12 clinical physiotherapy hours and six hours dedicated to occupational health case management and administration per week.

Staff may be referred to the service via the occupational health team, through their GP or local onsultant.

The service links with national initiatives to:

  • reduce the impact of long-term conditions
  • reduce disability from musculoskeletal injury
  • reduce sickness absence.

It has been shown that early advice and intervention decreases disability in those with musculoskeletal injuries, particularly those with spinal problems. It is also evident that improved communication is likely to reduce the perceived and actual barriers that prevent return to work, this communication is promoted through a consistent approach between services.

The results and next steps

The post had been established for six months, in this time:

  • Sickness absence for musculoskeletal problems had fallen by 25 per cent compared to the previous six months.
  • For the largest single group affected by musculoskeletal injuries, the nurses and midwives, sickness absence fell by 39 per cent since the start of the service. This equates to 195 working days saved over six months.
  • Trends have also been identified relating to staff groups, departments, and types of injuries seen. It was noted that the spine accounted for almost 50 per cent of injuries.
  • The cost of employing a 0.5 Whole Time Equivalent (WTE) Band 6 physiotherapist to run the service delivered savings to fund the post and an additional £71,000 cost improvement in six months.

Tips for other trusts

To assess the benefits of the service and produce robust data to validate the impact, you need to have accurate base line data.

In order to maintain a physiotherapy service for all staff with musculoskeletal conditions or injuries, the service may need to expand to keep pace with demand.

There are financial benefits for the organisation in reducing levels of sickness absence, as well as improvement in the quality of the working environment for staff. This service review highlighted pressure on the occupational health physiotherapy service to expand and a need to further support health promotion and preventative measures in the workplace.

Contact details and further information

Joyce Blundell, Senior Physiotherapist, Occupational Health Joyce.blundell@aaw.nhs.uk , Helen Balcombe, Superintendent Physiotherapist helen.balcombe@wash.nhs.ukor Trish Parkin, trish.parkin@wash.nhs.uk 

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