Sickness absence - early intervention pilot


30 / 07 / 2012

Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust is an acute trust employing  4,298 staff and serves the population of 370,000 people from Colchester and the surrounding area of North East Essex. In addition the trust provides radiotherapy and oncology services to a wider population of about 670,000 across North and mid-Essex covering North East Essex.

What we did and why

How we did it

Board and manager engagement

Results and next steps


Contact details

What we did and why

The aim of the project is to provide early intervention and support to staff off sick, referring them to the relevant professional bodies for support that may facilitate an early return to work. Staff with a mental health issue are assessed on day one of absence which has enabled the relevant support to be initiated at an early stage. Staff requiring physiotherapy have also been triaged on day one resulting in physiotherapy referrals being made from day one of absence.

The leadership and well-being team was established to look at ways of working together in a proactive way, looking at areas where indicators such as sickness, turnover and disciplinary actions were high showing that there may be morale or engagement issues that needed addressing. There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that where staff morale measures highly, patient outcomes and satisfaction also measure highly.

How we did it

The leadership and well-being team is a multi-disciplinary group led by the assistant director for organisational development along with representatives from health and well-being, staff side and HR. One of the projects that the trust looked at was how to support staff that remained at work whilst many of their colleagues were ill.  The group agreed that if earlier support could be provided to staff off sick which may expedite an earlier return to work, this would have a positive impact on all.

A two month pilot was initiated in March 2011. All staff received a letter advising them of the additional support that they would receive from health and well-being, signed by staff side representatives, service mangers and the health and well-being team.

When an individual reports as sick, their line manager contacts the Occupational Health & Wellbeing Department with details of the absence. The Health and Well-being team conduct a five to ten minute telephone call with the member of staff to establish any support that is required and signpost to relevant resources. 

Following the success of the pilot programme it was decided to role the initiative out to all areas of the trust over a ten month period to support all 4,298 staff.

Board and manager engagement

To introduce the initiative a pilot idea was identified and as there were no costs involved a business case was not required. All managers are very supportive of the service however the issue of current hospital pressures has been highlighted as the reason for some referrals being late. There were some concerns that the trust would be putting staff under pressure to attend work, however by working with staff side colleagues, the trust was able to offer reassurance that this was not the case.

Results and next steps

The early results have been very good. Due to the staged approach of the initiative, the results provided below are for the period October 2011 – March 2012.

Following the phased roll out to all areas the findings for the last six months are shown below:

Mental health issues

  • 71.66 per cent returned to work within 4 weeks.
  • 21.66 per cent returned to work within 8 weeks.
  • 6.66 per cent remain absent.

Musculoskeletal disorders

There has been a 100 per cent increase in referrals to physiotherapy with the following results:

  • 53.3 per cent remained at work
  • 21.7 per cent return to work within 8 days
  • 15 per cent return to work between 9 - 14 days
  • 7.5 per cent return to work between 15 - 21 days
  • 2.5 per cent return to work within 30 days

Staff evaluation of the service has been largely favourable. Initially, staff were anxious about the calls and some staff were not happy to receive them but as the conversation developed they realised that the service was supportive and that the health and well-being team was not seeking to manage their sickness nor ask them to return to work.

A key outcome of the service is that staff with mental health and musculoskeletal problems have been identified on day one and referred onward appropriately. The aim of the triage system has always been to support staff. Identifying health issues early has enabled timely interventions, consequently sickness absence has reduced month-on-month and annually from 3.68 per cent to 3.46 per cent.

The pilot scheme has contributed to a reduction in agency spend of £586,000 over the six month period.

22 per cent of staff have engaged in a range of health and well-being activities, from yoga, salsa, Zumba, weight management to 5 a-side football. 


“I feel firstly you took time to fully understand my condition, then went on to offer good advice and finally words of reassurance. I followed that advice and you were right - here I am a bit battle scared and sore round the middle but back at work. All too often people are quick to criticise but slow or reluctant to praise - not me! So yes, a big thanks you to you and the health and well-being team for your support and the good work you do. I feel this route of guidance and support is brilliant.”

The negative comments have primarily been along the lines of staff not wanting to be contacted for one days absence.

Contact details

Sheila Boyle

Head of Health and Wellbeing


Tel: 01206 745243

Fax 01206 744633

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