NHS rejects criticism over sickness absence

The NHS has rejected claims it is a “dinosaur” following a report criticising the service’s sickness absence rates.

Fit for Recovery, a report by think-tank Reform, claimed the NHS could save £1bn each year by copying strategies used by private firms to reduce sickness absence among employees. NHS staff take on average nearly 12 days off sick a year, far higher than the the rate of 7.2 in the private sector.

The report added that the health service was “shooting itself in the foot” by not making better use of the expertise in its workforce.

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 In the recession, the out-of-date practices of most NHS organisations impose costs that the nation can ill afford.”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 Sian Thomas, joint director of NHS Employers, said the service had come a long way in cutting absence rates.

“As the largest employer in Europe, the NHS has always taken a lead in improving the health and well-being of its staff,” she said. “The sickness absence rate in the NHS is as low as it has ever been and staff health and welfare compare well with private sector companies.”

“Major contributing factors to NHS sickness absence are stress and musculoskeletal problems, and significant effort has gone into managing both in recent years.

This year’s NHS staff survey showed a 5% drop in reported stress levels, down to just one in four employees.

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