Sick days cost NHS trust £3m

GROUNDED ... Plans for new Universcity Hospital of Hartlepool have been stoped by new conservative goverment.
GROUNDED ... Plans for new Universcity Hospital of Hartlepool have been stoped by new conservative goverment.

SICKNESS absence among hospital staff cost taxpayers almost £3m in just six months, it has been revealed.

The staggering costs come through paid wages and relief cover for sickness leave of staff at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

And bosses are now urging staff to “reflect” before ringing in sick in the future.

A report to the meeting of a trust’s board of directors said: “A campaign to share openly with our staff the number of days lost and the costs to the trust may provide the injection of reflection for staff before taking time off.”

It was revealed during the meeting that it costs the trust, which employs 5,816 staff, an average of £500 per member of staff per length of absence.

The average length of sickness is 6.85 days per absence per staff member.

A report to the meeting, held at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, showed the salary-based cost of sickness was £440,000 in October 2010, compared to £380,000 in October 2009.

The figure for November 2010 was £420,000, up from £375,000 the year before.

Figures for December have not yet been released.

It cost the trust a total of £2.99m to cover sickness from April to November last year.

The trust’s staff sickness absence rate rose to above five per cent between October and November 2010.

The trust’s absence target is less than four per cent and reasons given for absence include stress and anxiety and musculo-skeletal problems.

Clare Curran, the trust’s director of human resources and organisational development, told the Mail: “It is disappointing to see sickness rising after a period where levels had been reducing.

“We work closely with our managers to get people back to work as quickly and safely as possible in theirs and our patients’ interests.

“Bone and muscle injuries and conditions, whether caused at home or at work, and stress, which could be work or non-work related, are our highest causes of sickness.

“We did see a rise in short term absence because of diarrhoea and vomiting, which is often associated with the colder weather.

“We have strict rules about staff staying away from work and not returning until they have been free of symptoms for 48 hours. This is done to protect patients and other staff.”

But Mike Hill, regional organiser for Unison, said staff’s resilience during the winter period had been praised by the board and the figures only show a “marginal” increase of absence.

He added: “The period April to November was a difficult and stressful one with the new Government bringing uncertainties about jobs, health care provision and even the future of the proposed new hospital at Wynyard.

“All these pressures combined with a range of other medical problems means that it is a testimony to staff and their willingness to work with the trust on reducing sickness absence already that these figures were not higher.

“An increase of just over one per cent during some very difficult times signifies to me that the campaign to provide an ‘injection of reflection’ cuts both ways.”