latest health care news


Stevens blames ‘altruism gene’ for high NHS staff sickness

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens says some sickness absence in the NHS can be “designed out” if more support is given to staff with musculo-skeletal problems and stress, but that NHS workers have to look after their own health too.

In his speech and Q&A session at the Health & Care Innovation Expo this lunchtime expanding on the “major drive” launched this week to improve staff health and wellbeing, Stevens said: “The jobs that most frontline health professionals do are as demanding – probably more so – than just about any other walk of life.

“Secondly, the ‘altruism gene’ runs strong in the National Health Service, and so [staff] always put other people before themselves or their own health, but actually if we don’t look after the people providing the care, they’re not going to be able to do that as well.

“Thirdly, the reality is that in some places, they need leadership, to listen, and to take new ideas seriously, and creates the kind of environment where people feel they can flourish in their careers.”

Event chair Mishal Husain, a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, pressed Stevens on whether there was a specific target on cutting sickness absence.

Stevens replied: “We aim to cut it by as much as we can. Obviously if you’re involved in a physically demanding job, then your sickness absence often tends to be higher.

“There are two principal causes of sickness absence in the NHS: musculoskeletal problems, and stress/mental health problems. Some of that can be ‘designed out’ in the way that we arrange work, and by getting people the support they need early on – so access to a physio, or access to mental health services that have been shown to work.”

Sick days taken across the NHS tend to total about 14 to 15 days a year, with the latest figures (January-March 2015) showing a sickness absence rate in England of 4.44%. This was a slight rise on the previous year, when the figures hit their lowest rate ever.

The average sickness absence rate across all sectors of the UK economy is more like four to five days a year, but the Health & Social Care Information Centre says such comparisons are not useful: “These [NHS] figures are best compared with business areas that involve infectious conditions, traumatic situations and assaults on employees. It is possible that higher rates may be the result of good management systems and lower rates may be due to under-recording.”

Paramedics’ sickness absence rates are significantly higher than other groups, with a percentage rate more than five times higher than those in the ‘nursing, midwifery and health visiting learners’ category.

Stevens’ speech focused on demolishing what he called three “either/or myths” – the idea that the NHS has to choose between either health or care, either today or tomorrow, and either local or national. In all of these cases, the answer is ‘both’, he explained.

He began with some datasets showing positive trends, including for cardiovascular disease and teenage pregnancy, but noted that the trends in diabetes type 2 and obesity are much more worrying.

In the Q&A session afterwards, he was pressed Dr Kailash Chand, deputy chair of the British Medical Association (BMA), on seven-day working, with GPs already feeling overstretched and at crisis point. Stevens cited the strong evidence on excess mortality at weekends, and said patients are often confused about their options outside of working hours, thanks to the “right old alphabet soup” of A&E, NHS 111, out-of-hours GP services, walk-in centres, minor injuries units and so on.

Husain asked him whether he supported health secretary Jeremy Hunt or the medics and consultants who joined the #ImInWorkJeremy campaign on Twitter, rejecting the implicit idea that they currently only work during weekday office hours, harming patient outcomes. Stevens did not answer directly, but did say he was “on the side of staff and patients”.


There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment


national health executive tv

more videos >

featured articles

View all News

last word

Haseeb Ahmad: ‘We all have a role to play in getting innovations quicker’

Haseeb Ahmad: ‘We all have a role to play in getting innovations quicker’

Haseeb Ahmad, president of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI), sits down with National Health Executive as part of our Last Word Q&A series. Would you talk us throu more > more last word articles >

health service focus

View all News


NHS England dementia director prescribes rugby for mental health and dementia patients

23/09/2019NHS England dementia director prescribes rugby for mental health and dementia patients

Reason to celebrate as NHS says watching rugby can be good for your mental ... more >
Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

21/06/2019Peter Kyle MP: It’s time to say thank you this Public Service Day

Taking time to say thank you is one of the hidden pillars of a society. Bei... more >


Mike Farrar, Swim England - Last Word

07/12/2019Mike Farrar, Swim England - Last Word

Mike Farrar Chairperson of Swim England Would you talk us through... more >

the scalpel's daily blog

Unappreciated Qualities of Leadership: Hope

17/02/2020Unappreciated Qualities of Leadership: Hope

Independent consultant and strategic advisor Dean Royles continues his series on The Unappreciated Qualities of Leadership. You can find links to his previous pieces here. ... more >
read more blog posts from 'the scalpel' >

editor's comment

25/09/2017A hotbed of innovation

This edition of NHE comes hot on the heels of this year’s NHS Expo which, once again, proved to be a huge success at Manchester Central. A number of announcements were made during the event, with the health secretary naming the second wave of NHS digital pioneers, or ‘fast followers’, which follow the initial global digital exemplars who were revealed at the same show 12 months earlier.  Jeremy Hunt also stated that by the end of 2018 – the 70th birthday... read more >