Too many NHS trusts in England are failing to implement key recommendations made in 2009 to reduce staff sickness absence which could release much needed funds to improve patient care, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) says today.
NHS trusts in England spent more than £1 billion on sick pay in the past three years, new research for the CSP shows.
Documents obtained by the CSP under freedom of information laws reveal that musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain, alone accounted for more than 19.3 million sick days among NHS staff during that period. The figures show that many trusts have failed to act on key recommendations in the Boorman Review, a landmark 2009 report into the health of the NHS workforce.
The government-backed Boorman review said the NHS could save £555m a year by introducing effective health and wellbeing strategies and giving staff rapid access to physiotherapy and other occupational health services. But the CSP’s study reveals:
- More than a third (37 per cent) of the 163 trusts that responded to the CSP’s FoI request admitted to not having a strategy in place.
- Nearly one in five (19 per cent) did not even offer staff rapid access to physiotherapy to help them stay in work and so reduce waiting times for patients.
The CSP investigation demonstrates the high and unnecessary cost of this failure – trusts without strategies saw their sick pay bills rise by 14 per cent in the past three years, as opposed to just 4 per cent for those with a plan in place.
CSP chief executive Phil Gray said the delay in implementing Boorman 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 must invest in rapid access physiotherapy and other occupational health schemes that keep staff in work to help deliver the savings that are needed.”
The findings are published today in a new report from the CSP, called ‘Fit enough for patients? An audit of workplace health and wellbeing services for NHS staff’.
The report also revealed:
- Of the 90 trusts that were able to provide sick pay data for the past three years, 58 per cent had seen a rise, while just 42 per cent had seen it fall.
- Nearly a third of trusts (31 per cent) could not provide sick pay data for the last financial year (2011/2012) – with some admitting they simply don’t collect it.
- Although overall sickness absence across the NHS has fallen since the Boorman Review, progress has stalled and rates fell by just 0.4 per cent from 2010/11 to 2011/12.
Dr Steve Boorman, who authored the 2009 report and was awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list, said:
“While it is encouraging that a number of trusts now have a policy in place, it is disappointing that a significant portion do not, especially when there is such clear evidence that it makes a difference to efficiency and patient care.
“There are now many published case studies that show clearly the value of a variety of interventions to support NHS staff, and the cost savings of this approach are again highlighted in the CSP report.”
The CSP’s report calls for all trusts to act immediately upon the Boorman recommendations to protect NHS workers and support services for patients.
About 30 per cent of trusts had not responded 35 working days after receiving the CSP’s request for information. Authorities are supposed to respond within 20 working days.
As well as missing opportunities to save money when budgets are stretched, the NHS’ own staff survey, published earlier this month, suggests failure to tackle sickness absence could also have an impact on staff performance. 69 per cent of NHS staff said they had attended work in the previous three months despite not being well enough to perform duties, while 38 per cent reported feeling unwell in the past year due to stress.