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Occupational Health

131 million days were lost due to sickness absence in the UK in 2013. That’s an average of 4.4 days per worker. The cost of accidents, injuries and ill health to the UK economy was £13.8bn in 2011/2012 (HSE, 2013), with work-related ill health costing £8.4bn. 35% of lost work days across the UK each year were due to Musculoskeletal issues (MSK), a mammoth 31 Million lost day events each year. Based on an average wage of £74.19 per day, MSK costs employers £2.3Bn per annum.

Whilst direct costs have a significant effect on both employers and employees alike,
the indirect costs can also be considerable.

• Sickness absence costs the UK around £15 billion annually in lost economic output
• £13 billion is spent on health related state benefits
• In the NHS almost 40% of staff sickness absence is due to musculoskeletal conditions, e.g. back pain
• 5% of sickness absence becomes long term, lasts over four weeks and accounts for almost half of the total working days lost each year
• There is an 80% chance that if absent for six months an individual will be out of work for five years.


Case Studies

Staffordshire County Council

  • In 2012, Staffordshire County Council contracted a private occupational health physiotherapy company to reduce their sickness absences.

  • This rapid access physiotherapy service begins with a telephone triage. This allows contact with the employee within 24 hours of being off work. During the call the nature of the problem is established with self management advice and exercises discussed. A face-to-face physiotherapy appointment can then be arranged at a convenient time and location for the employee if necessary.

  • Since the start of this rapid access physiotherapy programme, Staffordshire County Council has found a reduction of 1,000 lost work days per month which amounts to a saving of £100,000 per month.

  • A service to prevent sickness and injury is currently being piloted to reduce absences even further.

York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

York Teaching Hospital NHS
Foundation Trust

  • York Teaching Hospital Foundation Trust was losing 5.5% of total working time due to sickness absence. This amounted to an annual cost of £3.7 million.

  • The Trust started a project in 2008 to tackle this. By 2011 the Trust had invested £160,000 in a multidisciplinary team (MDT) including occupational health physiotherapists. This team worked in partnership with hospital managers and trade unions to help sick or injured employees return to work.

  • By January 2011 absence rates were down to 3.8% and by November 2011 had reduced further to 3%. Long term absence has fallen by 72% for those off for four weeks or longer and 77% for those absent for three months.

  • Measured on a full-time equivalent basis there are now 54 more staff available to work with direct savings in pay costs of almost £1.2 million per year from a reduced need for bank and agency staff.