The inflexibility of the NHS is severely hampering employers’ efforts to reduce workplace absence because managers have no option but to send their employees for medical appointments during working hours.
The annual absence survey by the Confederation of British Industry and healthcare provider AXA has concluded that time lost attending medical appointments was a main reason for absence for nearly half of non-manual and four out of 10 manual staff.
Much time could be saved if more employees were able to get treatment outside working hours, it recommended.
Overall, absence levels increased last year as workers took an average of seven days off sick – losing 175 million working days and costing the economy £13.4bn, the survey estimated.
Long-term absence of 20 days or more accounted for 43% of all working time lost, costing £5.8bn.
In the public sector, just over half of absence was long-term, compared with more than one-third in the private sector.
Short-term absence also remained a key concern. While employers recognised the great majority of absence was genuine, about 12% was suspect and involved staff ‘pulling a sickie’, the poll suggested.
The best performing organisations lost just 2.7 days per employee, while the worst lost 12.
The key finding from an occupational health perspective, as in previous years, was the clear link between companies that offered rehabilitation programmes and flexible working and those that lost less time to absence.
The vast majority of employers offered rehabilitation policies, but improved collaboration with GPs was seen by more than one-third of employers as the most helpful factor in improving or offering rehabilitation services.