NHS staff absences: a damning verdict on an obese institution

August 19, 2009 4:25 PM

According to an interim report by the NHS Health and Wellbeing Review, NHS staff work absences are affecting patient care. The review, headed up by Dr. Steve Boorman, suggested that high rates of staff sickness and workplace related stress were to blame. The report found that annual NHS sickness levels are 10.7 days a year per employee - higher than the public sector average of 9.7 days and 50 per cent higher than the private sector average of 6.4 days.

The cost of sickness to the taxpayer totals at around £1.7 billion a year. If sick days were cut by a third, this would result in an extra 3.4 million working days a year and an annual saving of £555 million. The Review also found that one in five staff smoke, one third of the workforce are in moderate to very poor mental health, about 40 per cent undertake exercise less than the Government’s three recommended occasions a week, and at least 300,00 workers are obese.

Dr. Boorman, who is himself an occupational health expert, is adamant that by improving the health of 1.4 million NHS workers the Government could make significant savings and improve outcomes for patients. This belief echoes the findings of the report: more than 80 per cent of the 11,337 NHS staff who took part said that their state of health affects the quality of the patient care they deliver. Dame Carol Black, the Government's national director of health and work, gave her support to Dr. Boorman. She insisted that the interim report establishes a “clear link between staff health and the quality of care they provide”. This is the same Dame Carol Black who last year headed up a national workforce review in which she stressed the need for NHS staff reform.

What the report makes obvious is that the NHS needs to do much more to keep down staff absences. The Government cannot hide behind working conditions to excuse itself from its failures. The huge difference in absence rates between the public and private sector render this argument invalid. The Governments approach to talking this problem should be two-pronged: firstly, staff should be encouraged back to work by reforming the overly-hierarchical and target-ridden management system; secondly, those who take unauthorised absences or flout the rules should be caught and punished. This would ultimately lead to greater transparency and accountability. The taxpayer deserves to have this bloated and burdensome organisation reformed.

According to an interim report by the NHS Health and Wellbeing Review, NHS staff work absences are affecting patient care. The review, headed up by Dr. Steve Boorman, suggested that high rates of staff sickness and workplace related stress were to blame. The report found that annual NHS sickness levels are 10.7 days a year per employee - higher than the public sector average of 9.7 days and 50 per cent higher than the private sector average of 6.4 days.

The cost of sickness to the taxpayer totals at around £1.7 billion a year. If sick days were cut by a third, this would result in an extra 3.4 million working days a year and an annual saving of £555 million. The Review also found that one in five staff smoke, one third of the workforce are in moderate to very poor mental health, about 40 per cent undertake exercise less than the Government’s three recommended occasions a week, and at least 300,00 workers are obese.

Dr. Boorman, who is himself an occupational health expert, is adamant that by improving the health of 1.4 million NHS workers the Government could make significant savings and improve outcomes for patients. This belief echoes the findings of the report: more than 80 per cent of the 11,337 NHS staff who took part said that their state of health affects the quality of the patient care they deliver. Dame Carol Black, the Government's national director of health and work, gave her support to Dr. Boorman. She insisted that the interim report establishes a “clear link between staff health and the quality of care they provide”. This is the same Dame Carol Black who last year headed up a national workforce review in which she stressed the need for NHS staff reform.

What the report makes obvious is that the NHS needs to do much more to keep down staff absences. The Government cannot hide behind working conditions to excuse itself from its failures. The huge difference in absence rates between the public and private sector render this argument invalid. The Governments approach to talking this problem should be two-pronged: firstly, staff should be encouraged back to work by reforming the overly-hierarchical and target-ridden management system; secondly, those who take unauthorised absences or flout the rules should be caught and punished. This would ultimately lead to greater transparency and accountability. The taxpayer deserves to have this bloated and burdensome organisation reformed.

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