Sickness absence: your letters

Sickness absence is right in any civilised society

I was dismayed to read the comments by Dr Peter Holden (Personnel Today, 20 June).

While I wholeheartedly agree with his view that employers should not pass the blame for a perceived culture of absenteeism to GPs, his remark calling for “the demolition of the public sector belief that sick leave is a right” is ill-considered.

Let’s get this straight: sick leave is a reasonable right to be expected by any employee. While absenteeism due to sickness is marginally higher in the public sector, this may well reflect a culture within the private sector, where leave due to sickness is invariably viewed as dishonesty or a lack of commitment.

I know from experience of the widespread practice of employers forcing staff to convert days taken off due to sickness to annual leave. Frequent, genuine sickness in this environment can often lead to dismissal, reduced hours or a sharp halt to career progression. Thankfully, these practices are rightly unheard of in the public sector.

We are constantly told about the employer view on the ‘cost’ of sickness to business. What we hear nothing of is the money employers save by their employees struggling to work with genuine sickness, fearful of financial and other repercussions should they dare admit that they are too ill to work.

Yes, I know of people who have taken ‘sickies’, but I know far more who have prolonged their illness by continuing to work due to the harsh regime imposed by their employer.

Human beings get ill. Any decent, civilised, humane and progressive society (and employer) recognises this, and rightly upholds the belief that sick leave is a right.
Hugh Allen, business analyst

NHS uses OH to collaborate with GPs over sickness

Dr Holden of the BMA states that employers should be doing more to tackle the issue of sickness absence and not rely on GPs to provide an occupational health service that they are not resourced to supply (Personnel Today, 20 June).

In the NHS, employers are tackling the issue and are not relying on their GP colleagues to do the work for them. Instead, the NHS is encouraging its in-house occupational health services to collaborate with GPs for the benefit of staff, the service, and ultimately, for patients.

The estimated cost of sickness absence in the NHS is as high as £1bn a year. NHS trusts have long been aware of this cost to the service and, as far back as the early 1990s, were among the first groups of employers to take managing sickness absence seriously. Employers are working hard to address staff absence and have largely succeeded where short-term absence is concerned. They are now identifying new ways of improving rehabilitation of staff who have been on long-term sick leave.

In partnership, the Health and Safety Executive, the Department of Health and NHS Employers are helping NHS HR directors to identify the best ways to continue driving down sickness absence costs in the service.
Julian Topping, head of workplace health and employment, NHS Employers



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