NHS staff sickness absence

Estimates from Public Health England put the cost to the NHS of staff absence due to poor health at £2.4bn a year – accounting for around £1 in every £40 of the total budget. This figure is before the cost of agency staff to fill in gaps, or the cost of treatment, is taken into account (NHS England).

To address this issue, NHS England's Chief Executive announced a major drive to improve the health and wellbeing of health service staff, in a bid to benefit both staff and taxpayers (September 2015).

How have NHS staff sickness absence rates changed?

The national absence rate demonstrates marked seasonal fluctuation, with a peak in the late autumn/winter months. The peak absence rate has declined slightly over time from 4.96% in December 2010 to 4.55% in December 2016. Data for the most recent financial year available (April 2015 to March 2016) shows an average sickness absence rate of 4.15% for the year.

Updated April 2017.

How did NHS staff sickness rates vary by trust type?

Sickness absence rates by trust type demonstrate the same marked seasonal fluctuation as the rate at a national level. Absence rates in ambulance trusts have been consistently higher than all other types of organisation. Rates in mental health & learning disability trusts, as well as community provider trusts, are also consistently above the national average.

Updated April 2017.

How did NHS staff sickness rates vary by staff type?

Rates of sickness absence vary markedly between staff groups. Nursing, midwifery and health visiting learners have particularly low absence rates. However, it is important to note that this group comprises students who do not spend all their time rostered onto shifts, and who have markedly different working conditions. Medical and dental staff have similarly low absence rates, with little seasonal variation.

The highest absence rates are seen amongst ambulance staff and healthcare assistants. However, in contrast to the pattern seen in the preceding months, absence rates amongst ambulance staff fell below healthcare assistants as of April 2015 and have not risen above them since.

Updated April 2017.

How has the proportion of staff who feel under pressure to attend work while ill changed over time?

A substantial proportion of NHS staff have felt under pressure to attend work whilst ill. In 2009 just over one fifth of staff reported that they felt pressure to attend work despite feeling unwell. This was followed by year on year increases in 2010, 2011 and 2012 when it reached a peak of 27%. This subsequently decreased in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, this indicator was changed to ask not only whether the staff member felt pressure from colleagues but also whether they additionally put themselves under pressure to come to work. Once this was included, the percentage of staff feeling under pressure to go to work when unwell doubled. In 2016, 56% of staff felt pressure to attend work whilst feeling unwell in the past 3 months.

Updated April 2017.

About this data

The data presented relate to sickness absence rates for staff at NHS organisations on the Electronic Staff Record (ESR). ESR is a payroll and human resources system which, since April 2008, has contained staff records for all NHS employed staff with the exception of GPs and those employed at the two foundation trusts which are not on the system. It replaced over 30 separate HR and payroll systems which were previously in use.

The figures published include the following components:

• Numerator: Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Days Lost to Sickness Absence (including non-working days)

• Denominator: Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Days Available (including non-working days)

• Rate: Sickness Absence Rate

The term FTE in this context means that if a full-time member of staff is off sick for five days (including any non-working days), the numerator=5 and denominator=365; however if a half-time member of staff is off sick for five days (including any non-working days), the numerator=5 and denominator=182.5.

It should be noted that lower rates can also indicate under reporting of sickness absence.

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