On June 2nd 2014, NHS Employers published statistics that reveal a year on year reduction in absence rates across the NHS. The rolling nationwide 12 month sickness absence rate to January 2014 was 4.44%, a reduction of 6% compared to the January 2013 rate of 4.72%. It's estimated by NHS Employers that this absence reduction has led to a saving of £97.8 million for the NHS, which is an equivalent of 859,424 working days and 3,820 FTE.This is great news and reflects the tremendous efforts being made by NHS Trusts across the country to reduce the impact of absence as part of their efforts to generate the £20 billion of recurrent savings that the Department of Health has estimated to be necessary in order for the service to cope with higher demands while living within tighter means.
We're especially pleased that the NHS Trusts working with FirstCare, for the same period, have seen an even bigger reduction in absence, with absence rates falling by an average of 11% during the same period.
In addition, the rolling 12 month sickness absence rates to January 2014 for the Trusts working with FirstCare is 3.69%, tracking 16.9% lower than the nationwide NHS average of 4.44%.
This is a great reflection of the effort being made by both our Account Management teams and our key contacts within the HR and Operational teams at the Trust’s we cover, who meet regularly to review absence and agree strategies to tackle emerging issues.
Examples of Tackling Key NHS Absence Trends
Some of the key absence trends we've seen within the NHS, and examples of initiatives that have helped tackle them, include:
With so many roles within the NHS featuring a form of manual handling it is understandable that high levels of musculoskeletal absence will occur. The chart below shows the average days lost per employee within the NHS compared to other sectors/industries: However, more than ever, NHS Trust’s are pursuing initiatives to tackle this kind of absence, including:
- • Earlier referrals to Occupational Health and easier onward referral to Physiotherapy.
- • Developing bespoke return to work interview forms specific to musculoskeletal absences.
- • The use of posture monitoring services, such as those provided by Back Track.
Line Manager Engagement
With so many issues competing for their time, it’s easy for robust absence management actions to slip off a line manager’s radar, especially if they already harbour a fear of making a poor decision that has significant consequences for both themselves and the Trust. This means that it is crucial to facilitate these actions being completed in the shortest time possible, and by a line manager who feels confident in the steps they are taking. To achieve this, several of the Trust’s working with FirstCare have:
- • Developed new, concise guidelines for line managers on the best ways to manage absence.
- • Provided access to manager training workshops and role plays, such as those provided by FirstCare.
- • Implemented compliance monitoring to track completion of all absence management actions by line managers.
- • Redesign Manager Appraisals to move away from focusing purely on the sickness absence rate measure and towards ‘Absence Management’ measure, such as the % of return to work interviews completion, the average time taken to make OH referrals, the volume of duty of care follow-up calls completed and the % of absence policy alerts review.
Based on a review of absences across 37,000 NHS employees, the impact that high return to work interview (RTWI) compliance can have on the average annual days lost per employee (DLPE) rate is illustrated below:
NHS Demographics Benchmarking
As more time, money and resources are invested in health and wellbeing agendas it’s important to note that not every health and wellbeing initiative is equally helpful to every member of staff. As such, NHS Trusts should look at sickness absence rates across a variety of demographics and design health and wellbeing strategies that specifically focus upon them. Provided below is a selection of benchmarking data showing the average absence levels across a variety of criteria. Where an NHS Trust sees that its own absence rates exceed the average for a given demographic it should consider exploring potential health and wellbeing initiatives to address the issue.