NHS progress on sickness absence has stalled, says physios’ body
Three years on from a major review of the NHS, which identified the potential for the organisation to reduce sickness absence by a third, progress in this area has been limited, a report by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP) has revealed.
The CSP submitted Freedom of Information requests to all acute, community and mental-health trusts in England. Receiving full responses from 163 trusts (70 per cent), the organisation found that less than two-thirds currently have a strategy in place for improving staff health and well-being.
The implementation of such a strategy was a key recommendation outlined by the Boorman review, which identified potential savings for the NHS of £555m a year if sickness absence among staff could be tackled through such measures as early-intervention occupational-health services.
Of the 90 NHS trusts that were able to provide the CSP with sick-pay expenditure figures for the last three financial years, those with a strategy in place for staff health and well-being saw a 4-per-cent rise in such outgoings, while those without a strategy saw an increase of 14 per cent.
The CSP report also reveals that 19.3 million sick days were lost to musculoskeletal disorders alone in the past three years. During this period, NHS trusts in England spent more than £1 billion on sick pay.
Commenting on the report’s findings, the Society’s chief executive, Phil Gray, described the delay in implementing Boorman’s recommendations as an “unacceptable waste of money”, which could impact on the standard of patient care.
“The NHS takes a double hit when an employee is unfit for work – there is the cost of covering that absence and a gap in provision, which can lead to cancellations and longer waiting times,” he explained.
“In the current climate, we frequently hear that services are being cut because of budget constraints, yet NHS trusts seem to be deliberately failing to implement Boorman and this blatantly obvious way to save money.”
The Society is calling on all NHS trusts to ensure they have a strategy in place to improve staff health and well-being, as well as appoint a range of health and well-being champions at various management levels.
It is also calling on the House of Commons Health Select Committee to carry out an inquiry into the issue across the NHS, and the impact sickness absence has on patient care.
NHS Employers said it welcomed the focus of the CSP report on staff health and well-being, but defended the progress trusts have made since the Boorman review. The group’s chief executive, Dean Royles, said: “Over recent years, staff sickness levels in the NHS have been coming down and this is a credit to the excellent, and often creative, health and well-being programmes seen in many NHS organisations. The NHS is facing pressures on a number of fronts and we can hold on to this momentum and keep sickness coming down against the odds. We have also recently agreed changes to sick-pay arrangements.”
In 2011, a report by the Audit Commission suggested the £555m figure identified by the Boorman review could be a significant over-estimatation. The watchdog calculated the total cost savings achievable by the NHS to be closer to £290m.
The CSP report, Fit enough for patients?, can be downloaded at http://www.csp.org.uk/publications/fit-enough-patients
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