The NHS is sick: Workers take 13.8 days
sick leave each year

Today we released our research on sick leave in English NHS hospitals. The findings make for sore reading: on average, hospital workers take 13.8 days off sick per year – against a 4.4 national average.

Even at the best Trust staff took more than 8 days off sick per year.

And at the worst? More than 19 days. (Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust and Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust all exceeded a 19 day average.)

Generous guaranteed sick leave payments (after five years of NHS service – 6 months at full pay and 6 months at half pay) mean that, anecdotally at least, sick leave is frequently taken as extra holiday time.

The data was gathered through a series of Freedom of Information requests, and the number of Trusts who said they simply did not collect basic data was shocking.

Responses also indicated that most Trusts are not tracking who takes large amounts of sick leave within their hospitals at a senior level, with individual line managers left to trigger absence concerns without oversight. Unless leadership comes from the top – through high expectations, sound understanding and competency – we cannot expect progress.

The picture this presents is worrying. Management that allows sickness absence rates to reach such high levels is clearly unfit for purpose. But sick leave should be seen as a symptom of broader problems where NHS managers are unable to manage their workforce (and their budgets) and are ill-equipped to understand what is going on under their very nose.

Decision makers that allow the rate and cost of sick leave to reach such levels show a flagrant disregard for taxpayers’ money. It begs the questions: what other areas of spending is failing to be managed effectively? How can the NHS be trusted to spend increasing amounts of our hard-earned cash?

We constantly hear stories about ‘cuts’, budget difficulties and the need for more money. Would a large NHS budget really fix this problem, or would it serve to keep under-performing managers in their jobs and prevent the need for anyone to face up to these difficult truths?

I know what I believe: market competition and patient power is the way forward. Shake up the healthcare sector and let hospitals rise or fall on merit.

Our research covered a range of issues around sick leave in English NHS hospital Trusts. Further findings included:

  • 14.93% of sick days are taken because of stress or related terms
  • The most stressed workers are at: The Royal Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (31% of days), Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (28% of days) and South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (27% of days)
  • Of the Trusts that were able to provide sick pay costs (worryingly, many were not), 2.74% of staffing budgets – or £1,134 per worker – was spent on sick pay
  • The average time off per sickness absence was 8.6 working da​ys​
  • Of the few Trusts that record such things, an average of 10% of their workforce had taken more than 10% of their working time off sick in the past yea​r​

Consider the figures at your leisure by downloading the full dataset.

A press release is available here.