NHS Employers and the health service trade unions have jointly launched a three-month consultation on proposals to manage an integrated approach for staff sickness absence and ill health retirement in the NHS.
The proposals are the result of an 18-month partnership review, and affect NHS staff working in England and Wales.
NHS Employers project manager Jeremy Orr said: “These proposals are a good deal for NHS staff, NHS employers and tax payers, as they mitigate the risk of unnecessary and premature ill-health retirements.
“While the NHS has already been seeing a year-on-year reduction in sickness absence, we think the key is to manage sickness absence even more effectively in the NHS, which in turn will reduce future cost pressures on the NHS pension scheme.”
The latest figures from the Information Centre for Health and Social Care show that the national sickness absence level for the NHS in 2005 was 4.5%.
Richard Parker, staff-side chair for the review, said: “We believe there is a lot more that employers could be doing to support their staff return to work after a period of sickness, including offering early interventions such as physiotherapy, alternative options such as a phased return to work or redeployment to another role, and holding automatic return-to-work interviews.”
The joint proposals include:
The introduction of a two-tier payment system for ill-health retirement benefit, with those unlikely to work again due to ill health receiving greater benefits than those with a reasonable prospect of finding alternative work.
New minimum standards for employers on managing sickness absence, ensuring employers support staff who are off sick, offering them options including phased return to work, redeployment to another job, and access to services such as physiotherapy.
Creating the right financial incentives for employers to help staff stay in work by recharging them the cost of ill-health retirements by their staff (currently borne by the NHS pension scheme).
Ensuring there are clearly defined roles for line managers, making them responsible for recognising health problems at an early stage and taking appropriate steps to minimise their impact, working closely with the staff member, HR, occupational health departments and senior managers.
The consultation runs until 21 January 2008. The responses will then be considered by the review partners before final recommendations are put to ministers next year.