NHS staff health review reveals high levels of sickness absence

A review of the health and wellbeing of NHS staff has revealed high levels of sickness absence and called for a major overhaul of systems to deal with the problems.

The NHS Health and Wellbeing Review found that NHS staff are absent due to sickness for 10.7 days a year compared to 9.7 days in the public sector as a whole, and 6.4 days for the private sector, costing £1.7bn per year. It also found that sickness absence is reducing more slowly in the NHS than in the rest of the public or private sectors.

The review included a survey of 11,000 staff and was led by Dr Steven Boorman, chief medical adviser to the Royal Mail Group.

He found high levels of ‘presenteeism’, where staff continue to go to work when they are not fully fit, as well as stress. Staff also did not believe that senior managers took a positive interest in their health and wellbeing.

“While there are strong examples of good practice, staff health and wellbeing provision is patchy across the service,” Boorman said at the launch of the review in August.

The review makes a range of recommendations, and says that improving the health and wellbeing of NHS staff could potentially save more than £555m a year and improve patient care.

Key recommendations include:

  • Inclusion of staff health and wellbeing measures and performance monitoring in the NHS governance frameworks.
  • Publication and monitoring of key health and wellbeing statistics, including annual data on sickness absence.
  • A national minimum standard of OH services across the NHS.
  • An improved provision of wellness and early intervention services for staff.

There are major implications for OH professionals including proposals for regional consultant OH nurses, rebranding of OH services with ‘a more positive wellbeing focus’, service standards, and protocols for handling routine issues such as pre-employment screening.

At the launch of the review, David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, promised more funding over the next eight months. “It will mean investment over the next period… but there is a really powerful payback and business case for this,” Nicholson said.

Full report and analysis in the October issue of Occupational Health

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