Workplace absence in the public sector is disproportionately high because employers are relying too much on the NHS to treat the two main causes of it, a senior healthcare expert has claimed.
Dudley Lusted, head of corporate healthcare development at AXA PPP healthcare, said he was “unsurprised” by new research from the Chartered institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) which shows that public sector workers take an average of 9.7 days off sick each year, compared to 9.8 last year. The figure, which the CIPD described as “stubbornly high”, compares to a noticeable drop in the levels of absence in the private sector, from 7.2 days to 6.4 days per employee per year.
After analysing the figures, Lusted told Health Insurance he was not surprised by the statistics, as the public sector tends to depend too much on the health service for its employees’ medical care. According to the CIPD, just 7% of public sector employers provide healthcare cover to some or all of their employees compared with 70% of private sector employers. That over-reliance on the health service makes the public sector’s problems with absence even worse, since the NHS continues to struggle in particular to treat psychological and musculoskeletal problems, two of the main reasons for absence, he said.
The CIPD research acknowledges that the gap between private and public sector absence may have many causes, such as more elderly workers, more stressful jobs and a relative reluctance to discipline workers for poor attendance. However, Lusted said the fact that long-term sickness absence, of spells of 20 days and more, is a bigger issue for the public sector is because it is largely due to psychological and musculoskeletal problems, areas of NHS shortcomings.
According to Lusted, the public sector’s refusal to accept that its dependence on the NHS was in part to blame for their problem with absence was like it ignoring an “elephant in the waiting room”.
“I can’t understand why so many employers continue to pay people not to work when the tools to deal effectively with their problems are so well established,” he said. “It’s no accident that employers who use them have lower rates of sickness absence than those who do not.”
The CIPD’s research shows that the overall level of workplace absence across all sectors of the economy now averages 7.4 days per employee per year, down from the eight days recorded a year earlier. The figure represents a loss of 185 million working days at an overall cost to the UK economy of £17.3bn.