The NHS: Britain's unhealthiest place to work?

A new study reveals that illness rates among NHS staff are 50% higher than in the private sector...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

NHS staff take an average of 10.7 sick days each every year, according to new Government figures – that’s higher than the public sector average, and 50% higher than the private sector average of 6.4 days. Even if you acknowledge that they’re probably more likely than most of us to get ill, there’s a certain irony in the fact that the people who are supposed to be the guardians of our nation’s health are actually the sickliest workers of the lot. And more alarmingly, it appears that their sickliness is having a massive effect on patient care…

The report, by occupational health expert Dr Steve Boorman, contains some startling statistics. While most NHS staff drink in moderation (despite what Holby City would have us believe), more than one in five of them smoke, with 40,000 NHS workers puffing their way through more than 20 fags a day. 40% take less than the Government-recommended three bouts of exercise a week. But the most common complaints are actually psychological more than physical: a third of the health service’s 1.4m workers have ‘moderate to very poor’ mental health.

Of course, it’s probably true that NHS staff (those working in hospitals anyway) are far more exposed to germs than almost anyone else – being around sick people all day must make you far more likely to get ill (or at least feel it – the power of suggestion, and all that). And the grim scenes that many of these workers have to witness on a daily basis also make it far more likely that they’re going to get stressed out by their job (in a hospital, a printer conking out doesn’t really count as a bad day, as it might in an office). So we’d love to see a breakdown of how these sick days are split between front-line and back-office staff.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that 45,000 NHS staff members call in sick every day, according to Boorman. That’s 10.3m working days a year, at a cost to the taxpayer of £1.7bn. So the financial argument is clear: reducing the amount of sick days taken by a third would save the NHS over half a billion pounds, which could instead be spent on things like beds, salaries and medicine. But it’s more than that: Boorman also found that high sickness levels have a direct impact on patient care: the worst-performing facilities were less productive, made too much use of agency workers and had higher rates of superbug infection and even mortality.

So there are plenty of reasons for the NHS to start getting serious about employee health and wellbeing, and start kicking its staff into shape...

In today's bulletin:

The NHS: Britain's unhealthiest place to work?
Manufacturers cheer up - but Governor begs to differ
John Menzies up - but Jessops slides again
'Pay now, die later' funeral packages on the rise
Green issues slip down the SME priority list

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