NHS England struggles with higher sickness absence

  • Date: 29 June 2023

SICKNESS absence in NHS England hospitals and community services was 29 per cent higher in the most recent calendar year compared with the year before the pandemic, according to analysis by the Nuffield Trust carried out for the BBC.

The absence rate (proportion of days lost) was 5.6 per cent in 2022 compared to 4.3 per cent in 2019, equating to an average of 17,000 additional staff off sick each day.

All types of NHS trusts saw a substantial increase in sickness absences, but ambulance services have seen a particular spike, with three ambulance trusts seeing one in 10 staff off sick on average every day in 2022.

Absence rates are thought to be contributing to higher costs and disruption for NHS providers, fuelling additional stress for remaining staff. This is considered a major push factor for staff leaving, leading to further disruption for patients and services.

Nuffield Trust Senior Fellow Dr Billy Palmer said: "The health service is grappling with a difficult new normal when it comes to staff sickness leave. The increasing numbers taking time away from work feeds into a seemingly unsustainable cycle of increased work leading to burnout and then more people choosing to leave.

"Monthly sickness absence rates last year never once fell below even the worst point pre-pandemic. These sustained, higher rates of sickness absence are equivalent to taking some 17,000 staff out of the NHS.

"There has been a lot of focus on recruitment and bringing staff in or back, but we need more endeavour to improve the working conditions of existing staff and protect them from illness. The NHS workforce plan needs to have concrete support to enable employers to improve NHS staff experience if the service is to break this cycle of staff absences, sickness and leaving rates.”

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