UK manufacturers are doing more than ever to tackle long-term absence in the
workplace, but believe their efforts are being frustrated by a lack of adequate
support from the NHS, a study has suggested.
Research published by IRS Employment Review and the manufacturing body EEF
has found that while long-term absence accounts for just 5.7 per cent of
absence cases, it represents almost 70 per cent of the total time lost from
The poll of 896 manufacturing workplaces employing 200,000, also found that
more than 83 per cent of companies said they offered rehabilitation to
employees on long-term sick leave.
Almost a third were engaged in programmes to improve their long-term absence
management and firms drew support from a mix of in-house (19.2 per cent) and
external OH services (36 per cent). But companies felt services offered by the
NHS and GPs were failing to support their efforts.
While GPs helped to manage long-term absence in almost two-thirds (64.9 per
cent) of sites surveyed, only 9.7 per cent of employers felt they provided the
most effective means of support.
The NHS’s failure to provide fast access to services such as physiotherapy
affected almost half of the companies surveyed (46.4 per cent), and presented
the single greatest barrier to successful rehabilitation for 16 per cent of the
Only employee resistance to taking up rehabilitation, where it was
appropriate, presented a greater barrier (16.4 per cent).
The EEF’s chief medical adviser, Dr Sayeed Khan, said: "There is a
fundamental problem around the lack of training of GPs in occupational health,
and the difficulties they face when balancing their role as the employee’s
advocate and in providing evidence-based medical guidelines.
"Greater efforts need to be made to improve relationships and
understanding between employers, GPs and other health professionals."
Other key findings
– A median of 4.56 days per employee
was lost to absence in 2002; 5.7 per cent of absences was long term
– Cost was the main driver behind efforts to improve management
of long-term absence in more than a third of companies (39.1 per cent), with
rising concern over employee well-being the driver in one in four (21.4 per
– Four in 10 (40.1 per cent) of managers had experienced more
long-term absence cases because of stress in the past five years. Three in 10
cited other mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety as the cause
– Employers did not believe line managers took responsibility
for managing long-term absence, but six in 10 believed site managers were good
at tackling it
– Only half (53.1 per cent) had written policies covering
long-term absence and rehabilitation, but more than eight in 10 (83.4 per cent)
employers offered it.