NHS HR professionals have been told to improve management practices after the health service pledged to save up to £555m by slashing sickness absence.
The cost savings were part of a raft of measures announced just hours after the Budget, including better procurement and IT, which would help the NHS claw back £4.35bn by 2012-13.
Plans to reduce sickness absence were first outlined in last autumn’s Boorman Review, commissioned by the NHS, which warned that 10 million working days were lost each year to ill health at a cost of £1.7bn.
Occupational health expert Steve Boorman, author of the NHS Health and Wellbeing Review, renewed calls for trusts “to improve health management practices”. He told Personnel Today: “Prevention of ill health is key. During the review, when NHS trust organisations looked after staff better, not only did they get better attendance, but also better patient outcomes.
“When appraisals were consistently done, the number of workers [in some cases] off sick halved, and where managers were supportive to them, and offered faster access to care and support, there was significantly improved attendance.”
Kit Harling, programme director at NHS Plus, which was set up to increase the quality of health services, agreed. “HR should make sure that managers have the details and skills, knowledge and attitude to manage sickness absence.”
Managers should use “common sense” to ensure early intervention for staff that is non-confrontational, he added.
Earlier this month, the 2009 NHS staff survey found half of NHS workers felt they lacked sufficient time to do their jobs properly.
The seventh survey of 159,500 workers also showed one in six employees experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from their line manager or colleagues last year – down slightly from previous years.
NHS Employers, which represents about 600 trusts, said continued action on reducing stress and bullying in the workplace, together with the new fit note, should tackle high levels of sickness absence.
However, Ivan Robertson, director at wellbeing firm Robertson Cooper, warned forcing people back to work was “unlikely” to lead to full employee engagement.
“An alternative problem that can be created which is just as costly is presenteeism,” he said. “In this case, workers are physically present, but not working productively.”