The sick man of the NHS

South Tyneside Foundation Trust has had the worst staff sickness rate in the NHS for four consecutive years, HSJ analysis has revealed.

The north east trust, which is now working closely with City Hospitals Sunderland FT, had an average rate of 5.6 per cent of days lost to sickness absence in the first three quarters of 2016-17 – the most recent available data.

The trust’s figure was down a statistically insignificant 0.1 percentage points from the same period in 2015-16.

Human resources director Kath Griffin said the numbers had come down a little, but broadly took it on the chin: “We fully appreciate the need to ensure that this continues in the future. As part of this commitment, we have introduced a new attendance management policy, with associated training for managers, and we anticipate that this will have an even greater impact on our attendance rates in 2017-18.”

Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust had the second highest sickness absence rate for the second year in a row. A spokesman for the trust said he could not comment because of the purdah rules covering official announcements in the run-up to an election, as if their explanation could have the remotest bearing on how HSJ readers may vote.

Bring on your wrecking ball

Lord Carter very nearly – but not quite – said the NHS should take a wrecking ball to its community services estate.

The Labour peer, who is a government advisor on efficiency, and sits on the NHS Improvement board, told a conference that “time and time again” his team found community hospitals costing £100,000 per bed year to keep open, which “isn’t going to work”.

Many health economies have closed, or are seeking to close, community hospital beds, arguing they are inefficient to run. However, it is often controversial, and in some areas there are concerns about reducing the overall number of beds amid huge pressure on capacity.

Lord Carter said: “On property in community trusts one thing that jumps off the page at you is the very high cost of community hospitals because many are too small.”

He later praised the “remarkably effective estates rationalisation programme” of the US army whose “secret was… ‘the wrecking ball’”.

NHS efficiency mavens, estates directors and leaders of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces can draw their own conclusions about what to do next.