Public sector bodies are increasingly referring staff to nurses when they go off sick, rather than leaving matters to managers.
Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), which is responsible for council homes in the Rochdale borough, has launched a scheme to help its employees when they need to take time off sick.
Instead of calling their manager when staff are unwell, they call a specialist health advice service – Active Health Partners. They can then speak to a nurse, who can help them with confidential health advice about their symptoms, and whether they might need to visit their doctor.
If the employee is absent for some time, the nurse will keep in touch and offer further advice. The patient’s confidentiality is maintained throughout.
The new service will be available to all 640 RBH employees, from office staff, caretakers and repair operatives, right up to the managing director, Paul Neate.
“We have reduced the levels of absence in recent years, but there is still a need to improve further,” he said. “Whenever employees have to be off sick, it puts added pressure on their colleagues.
“We recognise that when staff are genuinely ill, they need support and good advice rather than further pressure. The service provided is accessible and convenient, and we hope it will prove of benefit to staff and the company.”
When staff return from absence, they will still be interviewed by their line manager. Where employees have to take several absences over a period of months, they will need to attend an interview with RBH’s central personnel team to find out whether the absence is being caused by anything at work.
The news comes after York Council announced it was to extend the trial period for its sickness absence initiative where employees telephone medically qualified occupational health nurses when they cannot go to work due to illness.
Despite a lack of support from trade unions, Ken Green, head of HR, said scepticism surrounding the scheme would disappear over time.
“The telephone survey the company undertakes with people returning to work gives very positive feedback on their experience [of the initiative],” he said.
“The service is not intended to replace the GP, but it gives an additional benefit to employees by providing them with proper medical advice as soon as they fall ill,” he said.