How to ensure your trust complies with NHS sickness absence guidelines

Main themes

– Ensuring high quality care for your patients
– Promoting NHS workforce wellbeing and reducing absence
– Implementing best practice policy

NB: this article was written before FirstCare rebranded to GoodShape on 30.10.21

Are you focused on delivering high quality care for your patients? Then you need to take steps to ensure that your employees are well and at work by upholding best practice when it comes to NHS absence guidelines.

But, as a director or executive, how far should you participate in absence management? How do you ensure that your trust is compliant with guidelines? And what practical changes can you implement to promote best practice in absence management?

Read on to learn more about how to manage absence effectively at your NHS trust.

Strong, focused leadership is key to a healthy workforce, so it’s your responsibility to implement a top down approach to standards of best practice

Numerous reports and studies all point to one thing. Prioritising staff health and wellbeing boosts morale and productivity, which in turn achieves higher standards of patient care.

As a director or executive, you need to be clear and strong in your leadership. It’s crucial not to assume that you know all the latest guidance. Having a proactive approach and taking steps to ensure that you’re up to speed will ensure that the right message gets filtered down to those responsible for implementing the policies, avoiding any misunderstanding over what’s expected from management and employees to reduce absence trust-wide.

Similarly, you shouldn’t assume that management will automatically understand changes to guidance and policies. Introducing and implementing regular briefings about NHS policies and procedures on absence will ensure best practice throughout the organisation.

Provide comprehensive guidance to managers on what to do when a staff member phones in sick

In practical terms, there are a number of measures you can introduce to ensure best practice absence management. For example, the way that absence is reported at your trust is one area where compliance is crucial.

Do the NHS managers at your trust know what questions they should be asking when a staff member phones in sick? Are they aware of all the services available to staff? And do they understand the importance of keeping accurate records of these conversations?

Asking the right questions is instrumental to achieving an accurate overview of absence at your trust. You need to provide support for line managers at all levels to ensure that they understand everything from the most appropriate wellbeing initiatives to the possibility of counselling for mental health issues and the periods that staff should remain off work if they’re suffering from an infectious illness.

Empower your management with the tools they need to spot trigger points and support staff, giving you the information you need to achieve an overall picture of absence at the trust

If the managers at your trust don’t provide effective support to staff for short term (under 28 days) and long term (28 days plus) absence, it’s likely to have a negative impact on service delivery, especially in cases where resource is limited, highly skilled or costly.

However, with the right support, you’ll empower your managers to spot patterns of absence – in cases involving an individual or the wider team – and pick up on trigger points.

Where the absence is short term, they’ll be in a position to speak to the staff member about the issue, which is often all it takes for a resolution to be found. And where the absences last for longer, they’ll be able to provide support for the employee, plan the return to work (RTW) process and ensure compliance, for example by eliciting the necessary fit notes.

With these tools in place, you’ll have the information you need to maintain your knowledge of the overarching reasons for absence at your organisation. As a result, not only will you know the areas where you can consider greater intervention to support employees. You’ll also be able to benchmark against other NHS trusts, and ultimately increase your understanding and ability to reduce absence as a whole.

Make the employees at your trust healthier and happier by having a comprehensive health and wellbeing strategy

The NHS has made a sustained effort to prioritise health and wellbeing in the workplace, including reflecting the recommendations of the Carter Review which was published in February.

However, as a director or executive of a trust, you need to ensure that your health and wellbeing strategy stands up to fine scrutiny.

For example, are you up to date on the NICE guidance for mental wellbeing at work? Do you provide healthy food and encourage physical activity to promote wellness? Have you implemented measures to support employees to reduce or stop smoking? How about signing up your trust to dry January? Do your employees feel that you care about their health and wellbeing?

By ensuring that you’re well informed on all the latest initiatives and developments, not only will your trust be compliant with NHS absence guidelines. Your team – and all the employees at the organisation – will be engaged in the health and wellbeing process, and will be in a strong position to deliver high standards of care to your patients.

Ultimately then, it’s your responsibility to provide a safe and caring working environment. From engaging board members to providing guidance and support to managers, having an effective absence management policy is a vital part of this process.

We helped one of the UK’s largest healthcare trusts reduce absence by 27.6%. Read our case study on the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to learn more.

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