Absence still a significant issue within the NHS

The recent published Absence rates for the NHS, show that Healthcare Assistants have overtaken Ambulance staff for the highest rate of sickness absence

The latest published NHS Absence Rates for Jan 2016 to March 2016 show that sickness absence remains a significant issue with continued high rates of absence in many areas, and large variations in performance. In 2009 the Health Secretary commissioned a review of NHS Staff Health and Wellbeing which highlighted that staff absence was associated with high cost (at that time over £1.5bn a year), higher staff turnover, increased reliance on agency staff and direct impacts on patient care and performance against Regulatory Targets. Since then, despite recognising and accepting these findings, costs associated with NHS staff absence have risen even higher (estimated £2.5bn in 2015) and this article shows that significant variations remain.

It is pleasing to see progress being made in Ambulance Trusts, and we need to remember that underneath the percentage number – improvements mean extra staff on duty, contributing to improved patient care and reducing delays. 2016 has seen the launch of an NHS CQUIN encouraging Trusts to focus on staff health and wellbeing as a vital area. A number of Trusts are participating in formal pilots to evaluate impacts and it’s also pleasing to see West Midlands Ambulance Service acting as a leader amongst these – it is no surprise to me that its absence rates are below the quoted average in this article.

It is easy to suggest that working in the NHS is physically and psychologically demanding – giving expectation that this will give high absence rates. The reality is that when attendance is prioritised and managed well, with good management support and early intervention to ensure effective recovery and return to work as this data shows absence rates can be dramatically improved. This is vital to help improve staff health and wellbeing and to enable the NHS to respond to the significant challenges it faces going forwards.

Research and experience has also highlighted that true rates of absence are often higher than the data captured within the Employee Staff Record system, and this may further contribute to observed differences. Successful absence management requires robust systems to accurately reflect absence and enable timely management actions.