Sickness absence system may experience radical change

The Government has announced “a major review” of sickness absence in the UK, as well as committing itself to spending an extra £12 million on health and work programmes, including the Fit for Work service.

The independent review will be led by national director for health and work Dame Carol Black and David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce.

The aim of this sickness absence review is to “explore radical new ways on how the current system can be changed to help more people stay in work and reduce costs”, according to the Government.

The review has been wrapped up in the Welfare Reform Bill, also published in February.

It will also link into the Government’s wider review of employment law, which is looking at measures to reduce red tape and remove the burdens on business, said ministers.

In the same announcement, the Government pledged to spend an additional £12 million on health and work programmes, including the Fit for Work service and OH advice lines, arguing that “both have already proved highly successful in providing support for both employers and individuals in the early stages of sickness absence”.

In terms of a timeframe, the review will report later this year and the Government says it would explore in more detail:

  • how the current sickness absence system could be changed to help people stay in work, in order to reduce and share costs for the taxpayer and businesses as well as contribute to economic growth;
  • whether or not the balance of these costs are appropriately shared between individuals, employers and the state;
  • “tangible” recommendations for change; and
  • ensuring that recommendations for change were consistent with promoting private sector growth and minimising burdens on business, in particular on small and medium-sized businesses.

Within this remit, it will look at sickness absence trends and practices across the public and private sectors and across different segments of the private sector. It will also examine differences between segments to establish causes and understand best practice.

In a separate development, the Audit Commission has said that the NHS could save hundreds of millions of pounds by adjusting its approach to sickness absence to focus on the influence of local managers.

In a review of NHS sick leave it found that absence levels varied between trusts within the UK. The best trusts had absence rates of just four sick days per employee per year, while the worst had as many as 15 days, with the average being 10 days. Rates varied between types of trust, different departments within trusts and employees of different grades. If the factors behind such variation were better understood, the NHS could save as much as £290 million.

It was also recommended that managers reviewed their organisation’s sickness rates and compared them with their peer group to better identify staff groups with high absence rates.

XpertHR provides a line manager briefing that deals with long-term sickness absence.

XpertHR also offers a guide on dealing with employees on long-term sickness absence.

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