Unison has rejected a study that suggests the annual sickness levels among NHS staff is having a negative impact on patient care.

Occupational health expert Dr Steve Boorman conducted the independent review which found that NHS workers took 10.7 days of annual sickness on average, compared with 6.4 days in private firms.

Unison said it was a “disgrace” that the review was being used to criticise NHS workers who faced physical attacks in their job. The union warned that the findings were being “twisted” to promote private companies looking to take lucrative work away from the NHS.

“The report should not be used as a stick to beat hard-working NHS staff, who day in day out deliver excellent patient care,” said Unison head of health Karen Jennings. “You cannot compare sickness rates in the NHS with those in the general population - it’s like trying to compare apples and oranges.

“Almost 56,000 NHS workers were physically assaulted in England alone last year - that will obviously have led to staff needing time off,” said Ms Jennings.

“Working in the NHS is physically and mentally demanding and back injuries, needlestick injuries and cross infections all take a toll on workers’ health.”