In the face of ongoing industrial action over NHS pay, wellbeing and performance provider GoodShape has warned that the issue goes beyond compensation, and that NHS employers should be concerned about wellbeing and working conditions.
NHS Digital’s most recent data revealed that the sickness absence rate in September 2022 was 5%, unchanged from August 2022. Ambulance support staff reported the highest sickness absence rate at 8.8%, also unchanged since August.
The data found that the most reported reason for sickness absence was anxiety, stress, depression or other forms of mental health concerns (24.9%), accounting for more than 496,400 full-time days lost.
GoodShape analysed NHS Digital data from earlier last year, finding that Ambulance Service Trusts in the UK lost the equivalent of 1.2 million working days between April 2021 and March 2022, costing £239m, due to staff sickness. The analysis found that £48m was spend on agency costs to replace ill employees.
Alun Baker, CEO of GoodShape, said: “It’s evident to everyone that healthcare staff bore the brunt of the pandemic; the cost-of-living crisis is taking its toll and there’s a deficit of available qualified staff. But behind the political rhetoric from both sides, there are systemic issues we can all agree on.
“I think most NHS leaders agree there’s a need to fundamentally review the working conditions and practices of these teams, to provide long-term, sustainable solutions – not just short-term remedies.”
Suzanne Marshall, head of Clinical Strategy at GoodShape, told Benefits Expert that data should be used to give leaders and managers better insight into the real issues facing their workforce, and that employers should feel empowered by sickness data.
Marshall said: “With more organised processes, and the insight they bring, [employers] can stay abreast of potential problems and intervene promptly with support, to mitigate more serious issues arising.”
She added that busy periods and employee shortages can lead to higher stress levels. Meanwhile, 10 Feb saw further walkouts by ambulance workers in England, in the latest of the ongoing NHS industrial action.
Sara Gorton, head of health at trade union Unison, said: “Ministers must stop fobbing the public off with promises of a better NHS, while not lifting a finger to solve the staffing emergency staring them in the face.
“The government’s tactics seem to be to dig in, wait months for the pay review body report and hope the dispute goes away. It won’t. And in the meantime, staff will carry on quitting, and patients being let down.
“There can be no health service without the staff to run it. Ministers must open proper talks to end the dispute and put in place the urgent retention plan needed to boost pay and staffing across the NHS.”