Occupational health practitioners are to be called in to the civil service to act as sickness absence “trouble-shooters” under ambitious plans outlined by the Government.
In December the Department for Work and Pensions outlined the findings of a pan-Whitehall taskforce set up to look at sickness absence rates in the public sector.
It found sickness absence averaging 10 days per person, marginally less than the 11 days calculated by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the summer – but still nearly 50 per cent more than in the private sector.
The aim is to reduce this to 7.5 days per person through a series of initiatives, including a crackdown on persistent short-term absence, which are to be pilot tested in the civil service.
Occupational health practitioners will be brought in “to help staff with absences over a certain number of days in a 12-month period, to pick up early signs of longer-term problems”, said minister for work. Jane Kennedy.
A pilot scheme already under way at the DWP has reported that working days lost to sick leave were reduced by almost three days when OH professionals were brought in to work closely with line managers.
There will also be a tightening of reporting procedures, with employees required to call in daily when unexpectedly off sick for short periods.
People who self-certificate for more than five working days at a time will be “challenged”, it added.
But the TUC said the Government needed to put its focus more on preventing illness and supporting rehabilitation.
Deputy general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The public sector is not good at providing occupational health support or access to rehabilitation, but the report contains few practical new proposals to deal with this.”