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Consultation begins on sickness absence and ill health retirement

23 October 2007

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A three-month consultation has been launched on proposals to manage an integrated approach for staff sickness absence and ill health retirement in the NHS.

The consultation was jointly launched by NHS Employers and the NHS trade unions, through the NHS Staff Council.

NHS Employers ill health review project manager Jeremy Orr says: “These proposals are a good deal for NHS staff, NHS employers and tax payers as they mitigate the risk of unnecessary and premature ill health retirements.

“While the NHS has already been seeing a year-on-year reduction in sickness absence, we think the key is to manage sickness absence even more effectively in the NHS, which in turn will reduce future cost pressures on the NHS Pension Scheme.

“What we are proposing to do is to raise significantly the standards required to manage long-term sickness in the NHS and to ensure there is a clear link to the costs of ill health retirement, to encourage good practice and prevent extra contributions costs to pension scheme members and NHS employers.”

Richard Parker, Staff Side Chair for the review, says: “We believe there is a lot more that employers could be doing to support their staff return to work after a period of sickness, including offering early interventions such as physiotherapy, alternative options such as a phased return to work or redeployment to another role and holding automatic return-to-work interviews.

“We also want to ensure that staff can easily access appropriate benefits should they need to retire on ill health grounds.”

The joint NHS trade union and NHS Employers’ proposals, which are the result of an 18-month partnership review. include:

  • A two-tier payment system for ill health retirement benefit with those unlikely to ever work again due to ill health receiving greater benefits than those who have a reasonable prospect of finding alternative work.
  • New minimum standards for employers around managing sickness absence, ensuring employers support staff who are off sick, offering them options including phased return, redeployment to another job and access to services such as physiotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
  • Creating the right financial incentives for employers to help staff to stay in work by recharging them the cost of ill health retirements by their staff (currently borne by the NHS Pension Scheme).
  • Ensuring there are clearly defined roles for line managers making them responsible for recognising health problems at an early stage and taking appropriate steps to minimise their impact, working closely with the staff member, HR, occupational health departments and senior managers.

A separate review has now been completed into the main NHS Pension Scheme but changes are necessary for ill health retirement due to the increase in the normal pension to age 65 resulting from that review.

The staff sickness and ill health benefits consultation starts today and will end on 21 January 2008. The responses will then be considered by the review partners before they make final recommendations to Ministers next year.
NHS Employers

Your comments: (Terms and conditions apply)

“I agree with the practice manager’s comments that sickness absence has increased over the past few years in primary care, as this too has happened in our practice. I would welcome a standardised NHS sickness policy that practices could adopt to cover both secondary and primary care as there are many variations between individual practices and I am sure that this would make life simpler all around – again, agree that this would help us with working together” – Name and address supplied

“I agree with the practice manager – if absence management within the NHS is a national issue, why isn’t it being tackled nationally? So many managers within the NHS complain that staff don’t understand policies, etc. However, individuals may have worked at different trusts, each with its own approach to managing sickness absence! it’s ridiculous that the NHS promotes shared culture, vision and mission yet funtions in its own way at all different levels! I strongly believe that sickness absence should be addressed nationally – maybe through NHS Employers? Shared policies, shared practices, as in the private sector” – Name and address supplied

“As a practice manager working in general practice I do not agree with the statement that there has been a reduction in sickness – this may be the case in secondary care but I find that  here has been an overall increase in our practice.  I would welcome an NHS sickness policy which applied to both primary and secondary care – perhaps sharing such things would help to lead to a more integrated health service” – Name and address supplied.