NHS must do more to reduce absence

The NHS must do more to tackle sickness absence among its own workforce, as its absence rate is almost double that in the private sector, a public policy think-tank has said.

Research by Reform concluded that the sickness absence rate among NHS staff stood at 4.5%, equivalent to 12 days off a year per employee, compared with seven days in the private sector.

If it were to emulate some of the practices used in the private sector, it could reduce its £3bn annual sickness bill by a third, it argued.

Encouraging individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles was more cost effective than public health campaigns, as were financial incentives and bonuses for adopting healthy living, it suggested.

Reform’s director, Andrew Haldenby, said: “Government is a dinosaur in the evolving world of better health. In the recession, the out-of-date practices of most NHS organisations impose costs that the nation can ill afford.”

But the findings have been rejected by the NHS HR body NHS Employers, which said absence rates were as low as they had ever been, and worker health and welfare now compared well with private sector companies.

For example, this year’s NHS staff survey by the Healthcare Commission, now the Care Quality Commission, has reported a 5% drop in reported stress levels, down to 28% of employees from nearly a third.

Under a quarter of staff reported suffering from bullying, harassment or abuse from patients or relatives, down from 26% the previous year, although one in 10 reported experiencing physical violence.

More than 2% said they had experienced physical violence from other staff, up from 1% last year.

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