The rate of annual staff sickness absence in the NHS in England has dropped for a second consecutive year, new figures show.
The level for 2011/12 was 4.12 per cent, compared with 4.16 per cent in 2010/11 and 4.40 per cent in 2009/10, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC).
The 2011/12 rate equated to 15.56 million days lost to sickness, compared with 15.95 million the previous year and 16.75 million two years beforehand.
Sickness absence fell in six out of ten strategic health authority regions in England this year, the data found. London remained the area with the lowest staff illness rate – although it did rise slightly from 3.47 per cent to 3.51 per cent of total days lost to sickness.
The biggest fall came in the West Midlands, where sickness absence fell from 4.47 per cent to 4.31 per cent.
The north-east continued to record the highest rate, although it did drop from 4.6 per cent to 4.55 per cent.
Among different sectors of the workforce, ambulance staff recorded the highest level of sickness absence at 6.18 per cent in 2011/12. Doctors averaged 1.19 per cent, while nurses and midwives registered a level of 4.55 per cent. The average rates for staff in various support roles ranged from 3.66 to 5.41 per cent.
Gill Bellord, director of employment relations and reward at NHS Employers, said that reducing the number of days lost to sickness absence by 390,000 this year was “a real achievement”.
“The year-on-year improvements to sickness levels show that NHS organisations' hard work to improve staff health and well-being is paying off. A healthier, more engaged workforce is better for patient care and crucial to help meet challenging NHS efficiency savings,” she explained.
“The challenge now is to keep sickness levels coming down, by continuing to provide the range of support necessary to improve staff's physical and mental health and well-being.”
The HSCIC figures included non-working days if they fell within a reported absence period.