Sickness absence in the English NHS in 2022 was 5.6% – higher than the 4.3% rate three years earlier pre-covid, and totalling some 27 million days sickness absence. Moreover, 54.5% of staff reported they had gone into work in the previous three months despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties. This is a challenge for staff, managers, employers and occupational health services.
Sickness absence measured and reported accurately can help identify trends that may assist with both understanding individual causes and preventing or mitigating sickness absence patterns by addressing their root causes. The NHS, along with many other public sector organisations, however, relies on a system of sickness absence measurement called the “Bradford Factor” which some suggest is counterproductive, without research underpinning and needs to be replaced.
The Bradford Factor is a system which creates individual level, “trigger points” at which line managers consider investigation which may lead to disciplinary action to supposedly prompt improved attendance and referral to occupational health.
The NHS’s over reliance on the Bradford Factor is potentially discriminatory and highlights the urgent need for a shift in how the service manages sickness absence, writes Roger Klein in this HSJ article.