• South Tyneside Foundation Trust has highest sickness absence rate of any acute trust for third consecutive year
  • Trusts in Lancashire and Bradford in top five for past three years

An acute trust has topped the hospital trust sickness absence table for three years in a row, new data reveals.

South Tyneside Foundation Trust had the highest percentage of days lost to sickness absence of any acute provider in 2015-16, 2014-15 and 2013-14.

Two other FTs, Bradford Teaching Hospitals and Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, have been in the top five over the same period.

 Acute trusts with highest sickness absence in 2015-16 % of staff
 South Tyneside Foundation Trust  5.7
 Southport and Ormskirk Hospital Trust  5.4
 Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust  5.1
 Lancashire Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust  5.0
 Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals Trust  5.0
 Data for nine months to December 2015 

The average sickness absence rate for hospital trusts for the nine months of 2015-16 for which data is available was 3.88 per cent. South Tyneside’s percentage was 5.7 per cent, while Bradford and Lancashire were at 5.1 and 5 per cent respectively.

South Tyneside has a turnover of £210m and also runs community services across its patch.

The trust did not explain what had caused its high absence rate, but in a statement personnel director Ian Frame said: “We acknowledge that we have one of the highest rates of sickness absence among acute trusts and we are constantly trying to improve that situation.

“We are committed to promoting a culture of good staff attendance whilst treating staff who suffer ill health with understanding and giving them the necessary support that they require to get back to work. We have recently embarked on an innovative project aimed at accurately indicating the causes of ill health and taking actions to avoid absence in the first place. This project has been tested in other public sector organisations with very positive outcomes.”

The data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre consistently shows ambulance and mental health trusts with the highest sickness absence rates.

Bradford Teaching Hospitals’ HR director put some of the blame on the high level of deprivation in the city, from which it drew most of its workforce.

Patricia Campbell said: “Compared to other NHS trusts, we acknowledge that we have higher than average levels of long term sickness rates. This is partly due to an ageing workforce in some areas of the organisation and an increased use of electronic systems to capture real time absence information.

“We also draw on a local workforce who come from a city which experiences some of the country’s highest levels of deprivation and bring with them the health inequalities which accompany that.

“We have set ourselves ambitious targets for reducing sickness rates and our robust approach to managing absence includes a range of ongoing initiatives, such as counselling, advice and support services for staff, new investment in health and wellbeing services and ensuring staff have good access to management information. Reducing the levels of absence and looking after the wellbeing of our staff continues to be a high priority.”

Lancashire Teaching Hospitals said it was helping staff with musculoskeletal problems.

Workforce director Karen Swindley said: “We know our sickness absence rate is above average, and we are committing to further understanding the reasons for this.

“Our board reviews the sickness absence rate every month, and we now produce accessible and current information for every service so they can better understand what’s happening in their area, and take any necessary action. We have refreshed our sickness absence management training, and simplified the sickness absence management process. We are also implementing a range of targeted interventions aimed at supporting staff with musculoskeletal problems.

“We have invested in improving the overall health and wellbeing of our staff, and have recently opened a health and wellbeing centre that will be providing a range of classes and workshops such as keep fit, smoking cessation, alternative therapies, and mental wellness. We provide a range of counselling services for staff who are experiencing stress, and are about to launch a new mindfulness programme to provide further support.”