Employers should take a lead on preventing sickness absence

Press release: Friday January 4th 2013

Release time: Immediate

2020health’s report out today calls on employers to do much more to ensure an employee’s mild illness doesn’t escalate into long-term absence and sickness-related worklessness.

Drawing on experience from Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the report, “Work as a health outcome in the devolved nations: How Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales tackle sickness-related worklessness” details how schemes in these countries are making much more progress on reducing sickness absence.

The Glasgow Works project has been instrumental in bringing down sickness benefit claimant rates in the city from 18% to 12% in the past twelve years.

Northern Ireland Civil Service aims to be an example of good practice to other public sector bodies in the country. With 26,000 staff it is one of Northern Ireland’s largest employers and its health and wellbeing programme has helped reduce sickness absence from 15-16 days per person per year in 2002 to 10 days in 2012

The successful sickness management policy of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales is run by senior management and the human resources team in partnership with trade unions. Like the Northern Ireland Social Security Agency, the RCN uses a trigger point system to identify employees who would benefit from referral to the internal occupational health programme or from adjustments to the workplace or working schedule The success of the RCN programme is borne out by its sickness absence rate of 2.5% per year, compared with a national average of 4.5%.

Julia Manning, CEO of 2020health said, “It is in the interest of employers who are liable for sick pay, to ensure that their employees are well supported if they become ill. Much illness is compatible with work, even if adjustments have to be made to working conditions.”

“Our report shows that when employers put systems in place to support people staying in work, sickness absence goes down. Employers should be encouraged by government to do this. Employees who know they will be well supported in sickness and in health will ultimately be happier and more productive.”

The Sickness Absence review report in 2011 recommended that expenditure by employers targeted at keeping sick employees in work (or speeding their return to work), such as medical treatments or vocational rehabilitation, should attract tax relief.

The sickness benefit rate in Scotland has fallen from 10.1% to 8.3% in the past ten years. Rates in Wales have fallen from 12.1% to 9.4% over the same period. Both countries have seen a much steeper decline than England. While the claimant rate in England has fallen by 10%, in Scotland and Wales it has declined by 18% and 22% respectively.

To read the full report click here.

About Julia Manning

Julia is a social pioneer, writer and campaigner. She studied visual science at City University and became a member of the College of Optometrists in 1991, later specialising in visual impairment and diabetes. During her career in optometry, she lectured at City University, was a visiting clinician at the Royal Free Hospital and worked with Primary Care Trusts. She ran a domiciliary practice across south London and was a Director of the UK Institute of Optometry. Julia formed 20/20Health in 2006. Becoming an expert in digital health solutions, she led on the NHS–USA Veterans’ Health Digital Health Exchange Programme and was co-founder of the Health Tech and You Awards with Axa PPP and the Design Museum. Her research interests are now in harnessing digital to improve personal health, and she is a PhD candidate in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) at UCL. She is also dedicated to creating a sustainable Whole School Wellbeing Community model for schools that builds relationships, discovers assets and develops life skills. She is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine’s Digital Health Council. Julia has shared 2020health's research widely in the media (BBC News, ITV, Channel 5 News, BBC 1′s The Big Questions & Victoria Derbyshire, BBC Radio 4 Today, PM and Woman's Hour, LBC) and has taken part in debates and contributed to BBC’s Newsnight, Panorama, You and Yours and ITV’s The Week.
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2 Responses to Employers should take a lead on preventing sickness absence

  1. Don Shenker says:

    Excellent blog. Prevention work around alcohol misuse is also vital and yet this largely does not happen in a evidence based way. We know that around 17 million (yes, million) days off sick every year are due to alcohol misuse. The Responsibility Deal for alcohol at work will look at this issue soon. The case still needs to be made, but ultimately it is cost effective for employers to undertake evidence based alcohol awareness exercises to reduce harmful drinking among employees.

  2. Pingback: Ring, Ring! « Brandon Bored

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