Is quality data the key to reducing sickness absence?

Ruth Warden

To launch the NHS Employers' newly updated sickness absence calculator, Ruth Warden, assistant director of development and employment at NHS Employers, has written a blog about the importance of data in improving staff wellbeing. 

In terms of health and wellbeing, it can sometimes appear fun to focus on arranging events such as a series of Zumba classes or a staff health and wellbeing day. But I believe there is a reason why we should be spending more time on sickness absence data.

Unless we know what the issues are and where they are, we don't know where to target our efforts. As NHS professionals, we don't have a limitless resource to waste time on activities which will not make the biggest impact. Looking at good quality sickness absence data helps us use the resource we have to its greatest effect.

 What does good data look like?

  • It is real time - not a month behind. It’s presented at a level appropriate to the audience, so reports for each ward, business area and for the board, and it is presented regularly. 
  • A real effort is made to ensure that the data on sickness absence is inputted accurately - seems boring, but if it isn't right in the first place then any action you take is likely to be misguided. 
  • The reasons for absence are recorded to help understand the problems.
  • Presenting sickness absence information in different ways helps others understand it as well. So instead of percentage, think about using numbers of staff off sick each day, number of days lost and equate that to things which matter to your organisation in terms of opportunities missed. 
  • Conversations with managers put the figures into context - reduce sickness absence by a percentage, and you could have another five staff on the ward each day.
  • It is linked to other business critical data such as appraisal rates, mandatory training uptake, labour turnover, patient experience data, to present a picture of the staff experience linked to the patient experience, and enable the managers to see where effort was needed or where things might be slipping.
NHS trusts that analyse data and select areas for interventions have a much better track record of reducing sickness absence. So maybe we should all take a stance to get better at recording and our understanding data.

You can find out more about how to make the most of your data on our sustaining the momentum webpage. You can also find out what your sickness absence means using our newly updated sickness absence calculator.

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