NHS hampers efforts to tackle long-term absence

UK
manufacturers are doing more to tackle the growing problem of long-term
employee absence, but they believe their efforts are being thwarted by the lack
of adequate support from the National Health Service.

New
research published today based on 896 manufacturing workplaces employing almost
200,000 people, by IRS Employment Review and EEF, the manufacturers’
organisation, shows that although long-term absence accounts for just 5.7 per
cent of absence cases, it is almost 70 per cent of the total time lost from
work.

Companies
are responding to rising concerns over the cost of absence and employee
well-being in a number of ways. More than 83 per cent of companies say they
offer rehabilitation to staff on long-term sick leave, while almost a third are
engaged in programmes to improve their long-term absence management. Firms draw
on support from a mix of in-house (19.2 per cent) and external occupational
health services (36 per cent).

However,
companies feel  the services offered by
the NHS and general practitioners (GPs) are failing to support their efforts.
While GPs help to manage long-term absence in almost two-thirds (64.9 per cent)
of sites surveyed, only one in 10 (9.7 per cent) employers believe GPs provide
the most effective means of support.

The
NHS’s failure to provide fast access to services such as physiotherapy affects
almost half the companies surveyed (46.4 per cent) and presents the single
greatest barrier to successful rehabilitation for 16 per cent of firms. Apart
from the fundamental issue of the absent employee’s health condition, employee
resistance to taking up rehabilitation is the only factor to present a greater
single barrier (16.4 per cent).

EEF’s
chief medical adviser Dr Sayeed Khan said: "Long-term sickness absence is
moving higher up the agenda, and while firms are responding, they need greater
support.

"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.

"The
mindset and culture of sickness absence and rehabilitation will not suddenly
change, and there will always be employers and employees who will not
participate. But those willing to begin to knock down the barriers will be
taking a step towards a healthy, happy and productive workforce, and a business
that is both successful and sustainable.”

www.irsemploymentreview.com

By
Quentin Reade

 

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