Swine flu: Young people take three times more sick leave than older workers

Young people took three times as many sick days off with flu in July compared to older workers, adding weight to the NHS theory that over-60s may have partial resistance to the swine flu virus, Personnel Today has learned.

Data captured by absence management firm First Care, seen by the magazine, found that the number of working days lost per 1,000 employees aged 16-20 years old averaged out at 11 in July, compared to just 2.8 days for workers over 60. Those aged between 51-60 took 6.8 days’ sick leave on average last month, while 21-30 year-olds took 7.9 days off work.

The figures, taken from a sample of 62,000 employees at more than 30 organisations including British Gas, Coca-Cola, NHS trusts and local authorities, showed overall absence had shot up from 1.7 days in July 2008, to five days per 1,000 employees in July 2009.

Aaron Ross, chief executive and director of First Care, told Personnel Today: “There is no other reason than swine flu for the figures to have increased so much at this time of year. The figures include everything from cold and flu absences to suspected and confirmed cases of swine flu.”

The news comes as the government is “actively considering” doubling the amount of time staff sign themselves off sick from work from seven to 14 days so that they do not need to get a doctor’s note.

Firms are set to continue to ratchet up sickness absence in August as the figures show an average of 5.7 days lost per 1,000 employees so far this week, compared to 1.2 days lost in the same week last year. The government has already predicted a peak in absence rates in late August and early September.

If the First Care data, currently being used by the Department of Health to try to manage the swine flu outbreak, was extrapolated to cover the entire working population of 29.29 million people, it would mean 146,450 working days were lost in July alone, compared to approximately 48,329 days in the same month last year.

In mid-July, the Health Protection Agency estimated there were 100,000 cases of swine flu in Britain – far more than the actual number recorded. So far 7,447 UK cases of swine flu have been confirmed since April 2009, but the newest cases are no longer being measured.

Earlier this year, Personnel Today learned a swine flu outbreak in the UK could cost employers £1.5bn a day, with up to a quarter of the country’s workforce potentially going off sick.

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