Staff in NHS hospitals in Wales take significantly more time off sick than
their counterparts in England, and occupational health provision is partly to
blame, said the Auditor General for Wales.
Sir John Bourn found that in 2002-2003, an average of 6 per cent of staff
hours were lost to sickness absence, with a value of at least £66m in staff
This is in contrast with the average of 4.7 per cent contracted hours lost
by NHS trust staff in England.
The extra time lost is the equivalent of an average of more than 15 days’
sick leave a year for full-time staff, and errors in recording could mean the
actual levels of sickness absence were even higher, he warned.
"It is unlikely that any trusts will achieve the [Welsh] Assembly’s
original target of a 30 per cent reduction in sickness absence by the end of
2003-04," he said.
Attempts to reduce sickness absence in the country were being undermined by
deficiencies in management information, inconsistencies in management and
problems in the speed of OH services, he added.
"In particular, the lack of reliable information on the causes and
costs of sickness absence prevents trusts from targeting resources at areas of
greatest concern and evaluating the impact of any action taken," he said.
The planned introduction of an electronic staff record system across the NHS
in England and Wales should help to improve the situation, but most NHS trusts
in Wales will not get this until the middle of next year at the earliest.
Corporate procedures for the management of sickness absence were not being
consistently applied by managers and staff at the local level.
Bourn said: "Most managers still lack any formal training in the
management of sickness absence and, as a result, underlying problems and trends
in individuals’ sickness absence may be going unchecked.
"Problems with the capacity of trusts’ occupational health services
also make it harder for trusts to help staff get better and back to work
promptly or to address any underlying health problems," he warned.