How nurse-led absence management can save lives

With absence estimated to cost the UK economy as much as £18 billion pounds per year, Suzanne Monk makes the case for how a nurse-led absence management policy can not only save your company money, it can save lives.

The statement above – that a nurse-led absence management policy can not only save money, but lives – is a pretty bold one to make. But here at FirstCare we believe we have the data and endorsements to back it up.

The key is our “Complete Support” service. This allows employees to phone in sick – at any time of day 24/7 – and receive advice from a trained medical professional. We are the only absence management specialists to employ registered nurses to deliver this.

About the author

Suzanne Monk is clinical governance officer for FirstCare

All our nurses are trained to identify a “Code Red”, or someone whose call suggests a serious health concern. It requires all their years of experience to read the signals, but potentially save lives as a result.

As soon as a Code Red is flagged, the caller is advised to dial 999 or attend Accident and Emergency at their nearest hospital.

On average, our nurse advisors take 5,800 calls each month. Around eight of those calls are Code Reds – so around one in 750 – which require the caller to attend A&E or dial 999.

One caller (a physiotherapist as it happens) told us our advice saved her a lot of pain and possibly from getting very ill. There is no way she would otherwise have gone to A&E, as she just assumed she had stomach ache.

She had told our nurse she had severe abdominal pain and – after answering some key questions – was advised to go straight to A&E. She was quickly admitted and put on the list for emergency surgery, where it was discovered she had a perforated appendix.

‘Straws’ triage pathway

The first thing the nurse will do at the outset of any call is to undertake General Data Protection Regulation checks to ensure we’re compliant. Following that, he or she will begin our triage pathway: “STRAWS”: STRAWS stands for:

  • S – Set the scene.
  • T – Triage using our Red Flag app. This has been written by the A&E consultant at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and is kept up to date by the company medical adviser and clinical governance officer.
  • R – Reassure.
  • A – Advice.
  • W – Worsening Advice.
  • S – Signpost.

Once the triage is complete, the nurse will then log the reason for the absence, record the lost time and discuss a return to work.

Another example of an employee who said he would be “forever grateful” for our Code Red advice, as he had been told by an A&E doctor he had just hours to save him from permanent disability.

It isn’t just in emergency situations that users of our nurse-led service benefit. When they phone in, employees know they’ll be speaking to a trained professional who will understand their situation.

Mental health issues

This is particularly relevant when the reason for absence is sensitive – a mental health issue, for example – which they might not feel comfortable discussing with their manager.

Other feedback we’ve had illustrates the impact our nurses have on the day-to-day lives of our service users.

One council employee, for example, said that her nurse advisor delivered advice and information that was “more helpful than anything she’d received from her doctor or dentist”. She added that she preferred to speak to us rather than contact her manager when she was unwell.

Another service user expressed her surprise and gratitude for the advice she received over a weekend, as our service is available 24 hours, seven days a week.

There are no set call length targets so if, for example, there is a call at 3am that requires 45 minutes, that’s what it will take.

Finally, our nurse-led service makes life easier for HR teams. The benefits include the removal of pressure from managers, who can find it awkward to speak to employees about health issues. And early intervention is facilitated, which can prevent chronic illness.

In addition, helping employees to return to work avoids the situation where the longer an employee is off work, the harder it is for them to return. The service is fully integrated, meaning it is easy to monitor employees and assess the impact of treatment pathways.

Your Change at Work, First Care, available online at

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