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NHS trusts have spent £1bn in sick pay over the past three years

More than one in three have no health and wellbeing strategy

Caroline White

Thursday, 14 March 2013

One in three NHS trusts is “wasting money” on staff sick pay that should be being used instead to improve patient care, because they have no health and wellbeing strategy in place, finds a report by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP).

This is despite recommendations made over four years ago, in a bid to cut NHS spending on sick pay.

Data gathered under freedom of information legislation shows that 19.3 million sick days have been lost to musculoskeletal conditions, including back pain, over the past three years alone.

NHS trusts in England spent more than £1 billion on sick pay during that period, the report shows.

The figures show that many trusts have failed to act on the key recommendations of the landmark 2009 report, the Boorman Review, such as introducing an effective health and wellbeing strategy to reduce staff sickness in the NHS workforce.

The review advised that all NHS organisations should offer staff rapid access to physiotherapy and other occupational health services. But the society’s survey reveals that more than a third (37%) of the 163 trusts that responded to the CSP survey have no wellbeing strategy in place.

CSP chief executive Phil Gray said the delay in implementing Boorman’s recommendations was an “unacceptable waste of money on prolonged sick leave” and damaging to patient care.

“The NHS takes a double hit when an employee is unfit to work – there is the cost of covering that absence, and a gap in provision that can lead to cancellations and longer waiting times,” he said.

“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.”

Instead of cutting services to reduce costs, they should invest in rapid access to occupational health schemes, including physiotherapy services, to keep staff in work to help deliver the savings that are needed, he suggested.

The CSP investigation details the high and unnecessary costs amassed by trusts without strategies. Those trusts that did have a plan in place found sick leave bills rose by only 4% while those without stumped up 14%.

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, 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 wellbeing programmes seen in many NHS organisations. We have also recently agreed changes to sick pay arrangements.”

But he added: "Investing in the health and wellbeing of staff makes sense in any organisation. In the current financial climate we need to make sure that we are getting the best possible value for taxpayers’ money. In the NHS we have the added impetus of needing to make sure that our staff are well and in work so that patients get timely and quality care.

"Supporting staff health is about more than just lowering sickness absence. We need to make sure that we encourage a culture where signs of stress or concern are spotted early and to support staff to take responsibility for managing their own well-being,” he added.

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