Case Study - Occupational Health Triage Service for Staff Sickness

Isle of Wight Health Trust 

Di Eccleston, Head of OH for Healthcare & Commercial Services 

What we did

Isle of Wight NHS Trust undertook a 6 month pilot telephone sickness absence triage service to see if it could reduce short term sickness absence and encourage an early return to work.

Background – Why

‘Working for a Healthier Tomorrow’ (Dame Carol Black, March 2008) and Dr Steve Boorman’s Final Report (November 2009) sets a vision of Health and Wellbeing for staff that will ultimately improve patient experiences and outcomes. The NHS has a duty of care to its staff. The NHS Constitution, published in January 2009, reiterates their entitlement to a healthy working environment and commits the NHS to providing support and opportunities to enable them to maintain their health, wellbeing and safety wherever they work.

A Health and Wellbeing Charter is being formulated by the DOH as a standard for trusts to aspire and adhere to, this will be incorporated into the NHS Isle of Wight Strategy for 20011/12. We wanted to be proactive and address sickness absence head on.

The approach

The aim of the project is:

  • To reduce short term sickness absence and bank use by expanding the OH remit to support staff, managers and the PCT
  • To develop and implement health and wellbeing strategies that will assist in maintaining the health of staff at work and those off sick, encouraging an early return to work.

The pilot was launched on 1st October 2010 to establish early contact with all staff off sick, initially within 6 chosen areas of high absence and bank use. 3 further areas were added in November 2010, December 2010 and January 2011.

One OH nurse works full time to cover this service and also support the OH team in delivering health and wellbeing messages and promotional services.

The pilot aimed to help reduce the length of each episode of sickness absence by advising staff off sick about appropriate measures they may take, and to closely liaise with managers providing feedback on all contacts made with staff off sick in their areas. Rather than use an expensive external provider, an ‘in house’ modified version was designed. This retained local management responsibility and control between employee and departmental manager, making the service a vital link in the sickness absence process.

For example, having access to the E-rostering system allows the Triage to identify triggers for management action, such as unacceptable patterns of sickness.

The Outcome 

Episodes of Absence 

The total number of episodes i.e. different periods of sickness from 1 day up to 28 days in succession, is shown in the table below. A total of 685 episodes in 2009 compared to 639 episodes in 2010. This shows a decrease of 46 episodes this year when compared to the same period last year.

Episodes of Days Lost

The table below compares the total number of days lost due to short term sickness within the 9 areas for the six month period October 2010 to March 2011 to the same period in 2009/2010. A total of 2269 days in 2009/2010 compared to 2005 in 2010/2011 showing a reduction of 264 days lost.

The difference

“ Your service is proving to be very a useful support to myself as a ward manager; it provides useful information about staff responses when they are off sick and reminds them to stay in touch with the ward. From a suspicious start, I think members of staff are now aware that you are there to support them and not to harass. May your service continue.” Sister, Alverstone.

“ CCU have found the service valuable and have received positive feedback from members of staff who have experienced firsthand contact with the service. We would definitely be supportive of its continuation.” Sister, CCU.

For additional information please contact Di Eccleston, Head of OH for Healthcare & Commercial Services 


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