The cost of sickness absence in the NHS – Managers have to get a grip

Some of the figures being reported in the media about the cost of sickness in the Public Sector are quite staggering.

The Sunday Times report today highlights that staff at the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust, take on an average of 14.2 days off sick a year. The UK average in the private sector is approx 3.5 days.

At a time when the public sector is under great pressure to make cost savings and become more efficient it is surprising that Management are only now waking up to the cost of sickness absence. It is not just paying staff who are not working, but importantly the cost of paying agency staff to cover. The Sunday Times reports that at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, £5.7m was spent on sick pay in the last year and a further £433,000 on “enhanced” sick pay – One hospital in one part of the country.

are not alone. In September, Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust spent £151,000 on agency cover staff – One hospital in one month. At Walsall 4.1% of employees are calling in sick every day.

It is absolutely vital that every £ of taxpayers hard earned money is spent in the most effective manner. The management of sickness absence in the public sector has to be raised up the list of Government priorities.

An example of the benefits are illuminating. The Western Sussex Hospitals board has said reducing sickness rates by just half a percent would save around £1.5m a year. Just multiply that out across the country and see how much more would be available for patient care.

It is not just the NHS where the problem lies. For example, Birmingham City Council is on the case of their employees, where last year 324, 249 days were missed due to illness, with the average of days lost being 9.25 days per employee and rising. Cost to the taxpayer – £39m. At least the Council have a finger on the problem and have made it a priority to bring it down.

We wait to see the results.

David Frost – who is also a consultant to Absence Manager.