Long-term absence is an ongoing problem for employers

More than a third of employers in the manufacturing sector have seen an increase in long-term absence from 2007 to 2008, according to a sickness absence study of the manufacturing industry conducted by the manufacturers’ organisation EEF and Unum.

The EEF/Unum 2009 Sickness Absence Survey shows that, despite overall sickness absence decreasing, 36% of respondents reported an increase in long-term sickness absence, proving that it is still an ongoing issue.

The survey results identified surgery or medical investigation or tests as the cause of almost 60% of all long-term absences, ahead of back problems (34%), cancer (26%) and stress (25%).This category continues to worsen, with the number of employers citing the cause increasing by 6% over the last 12 months and 14% since 2005.

In addition, of those employers who have seen an increase, 28% report that waiting for appointment or diagnosis of illness is a barrier on the pathway to return to work and 25% cite waiting for treatments or operations.

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Professor Sayeed Khan, EEF chief medical adviser, said: “The overall fall in sickness absence figures conceals a worrying trend – an ongoing issue with long-term absence. Employers can do a lot to address this through better management, but employers would benefit from faster access to NHS treatments and secondary care in order to have a chance of significantly improving absence levels. Furthermore, similar training to that being provided to GPs in health and work also needs to be given for health professionals who work in hospitals.”

The research also showed that 45% of companies have said that they are dissatisfied with the current sick note system.