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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Doctors get sick too

Wales’ Auditor General report out today on staff sickness levels in the NHS makes for interesting reading for BMA members. It says it’s still a “significant problem”, even though some improvements have been made.

Since April 2004, time off work because of ill health has averaged out at 14 working days per year for an NHS trust worker. This is down on the previous two years, when the average rate was just over 15-and-a-half working days per year.

I don’t think it should come as any surprise that sickness levels by NHS staff are higher than in other professions. After all, they are coming into contact with various different kinds of illnesses constantly. Those with the strongest immune systems are going to succumb at some point!

Of course, we’re not just talking about physical ill health here either. “Sickness” can cover all kinds of ailments, including stress. And again, it’s hardly surprising if staff working in NHS trusts experience more incidents of stress than other sectors, considering the very stressful situations medics are faced with on a daily basis. Then you have to add to that the fact that occupational health services are found wanting in many parts of the NHS.

That’s exactly why the BMA is calling for a national roll-out of the Primary Care Support Service, as part of our consultation response to the proposed reforms of the Welsh NHS. The PCSS is currently the only occupational health service available to clinicians and disappointingly, isn’t on offer in all parts of Wales. Even the Auditor General, in his new report, highlights the need to improve occupational health services for NHS staff. If that happens, then maybe we really will start to see a dramatic fall in the number of sick days taken by employees looking after the health of everyone else.

1 comment:

  1. Richard – thanks for your support for the Primary Care Support Service. On a point of accuracy, the Primary Care Support Service is a counselling, support and education service rather than an occupational health service. Following the model of a North Wales service, it was launched in 2006 to cover the whole of Wales and is available to GPs, General Dental Practitioners and community pharmacists working in Wales. More information is available at

    To pick up your important point about occupational health services, the PCSS emerged out of the recommendations of a Task & Finish group which was asked to look at provision of Occupational Health Services for primary care staff in Wales in 2002. They suggested a three stranded model:-
    1. Crisis intervention
    2. Occupational health services
    3. Educational, stress management, promoting well-being etc

    It is encouraging that the Primary Care Support Service has been funded to provide the Crisis Intervention service for which the Welsh Assembly Government is to be congratulated. The intention however was that once the PCSS was established, the second and largest strand, an occupational health service would be developed. Since this has not progressed it is to be hoped that the major NHS changes in Wales will afford an opportunity for this identified need to be met.


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