Levels of reported sickness absence at the National Assembly for Wales fell sharply last year – a potential productivity saving of £1.1m in staff time, according to an official report.
The report by the auditor general for Wales, Jeremy Colman, found staff reported an average of eight days worth of sickness absence in 2005, compared with 10 days in 2004.
This was helped by a particular reduction in long-term and psychologically related absences.
The reduction follows an increased corporate focus on the issue. This has been reflected in closer monitoring by senior management; the introduction of improved management policies and procedures for handling sickness absence; better support for managers through a new HR structure; and additional training.
The recruitment of a full-time occupational health doctor has also helped to focus particular attention on resolving long-term sickness absence cases.
The HR department is also in the process of introducing a new electronic HR system that should simplify the absence recording process and provide better quality information to managers, the report said.
However, despite these improvements, the report warned there is a risk that sickness absence rates could rise again because of ongoing organisational change. This includes the merger of the Welsh Assembly with a number of former assembly sponsored public bodies, which will boost staff numbers up to about 8,000 in total.
Colman said: “This shows what can be achieved when organisations commit time and resources to tackling this issue. It is important that management across the National Assembly for Wales continue to keep a close watch on levels of sickness absence, especially during this period of organisational change.”