National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
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NICE advice could save NHS £290 million in sick days

Following NICE's workplace advice could make the NHS more productive and contribute to saving £290 million lost through sick days, as the Audit Commission highlights large variations in levels of sickness absence across the NHS.

Trusts in the North of England had the highest levels of sickness absence, higher than 6 per cent, while Strategic Health Authorities in London had the lowest levels, at 1.6 per cent.

Staff were more likely to take sick leave if they live in an area of high deprivation. Junior staff are also more prone to taking time off sick than their more senior colleagues.

But these factors cannot explain all the variation, which may be due in part to differences in the way NHS organisations manage, motivate and support their staff, the report says.

The report finds that if the NHS adopts approaches to improve the efficiency and managing of their sickness absence to reduce their sickness rates to the lower quartile, they could increase staff productivity, improve morale and save £290 million.

NICE can help with this and has produced public health guidance on the management of long-term sickness and incapacity for work along with a range of tools to help implement the recommendations, as part of a suite of workplace-related guidance which also relates to promoting physical activity, mental wellbeing, smoking cessation and obesity.

Professor Dame Carol Black, National Director for Health and Work, said that the findings confirmed the “high costs of impaired health and well-being”.

“Unexplained variations between trusts highlight the importance of good management practice in minimising the causes of sickness absence of staff at every level. The findings of the report will prompt reflection in every trust, and review with remedial action in many,” she said.

Andy McKeon, Managing Director of Health at the Audit Commission, said:

“There are some very good reasons why sickness absence rates in the NHS differ between organisations, and even between departments.

“Managers need to be realistic about what they can achieve and accept that some staff, such as frontline workers who deal with sickly patients all day, are likely to have more days off sick than, for example, those without direct patient care responsibilities.

“But these kind of factors do not explain all the variation, nor, for example, the level of long-term sickness in the NHS. Health trusts can make big savings and improve the wellbeing of staff by identifying where they have unexplained high levels of sickness, and targeting efforts at reducing them.”

The Royal College of Physicians is currently undertaking the first ever audit among NHS staff of NICE's public health guidance for the workplace, and expect to publish their findings next month.



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