This interview with Aaron Ross Chief Executive of FirstCare Absence Management Services follows the news that Peterborough City Council is suffering a statistically high level of absenteeism. Broadcast at 08:18 on Tuesday May 4th 2010 in the Paul Stainton Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Peterborough.
STAINTON: Now as we mentioned council workers at Peterborough City Council took an average of eleven point eight days off sick, compared to NHS staff in Peterborough who took nine days, and the police who took just over a week off last year. Aaron Ross is from an absence management company who manages sick-leave. They’re called FirstCare. Morning Aaron.
ROSS: Good morning.
STAINTON: How do you manage, first of all, absence?
ROSS; Basically we work for large organisations such as British Gas, Coca-Cola and the NHS. When their employees are absent from work, rather than ‘phoning their manager they ‘phone us. It comes through to our call-centre, speak to our nurses, and we manage them, a) back to health, so making sure they’ve got the right medical treatment, and b) we then manage the absence, and what the manager has to do to make sure that the absence is mitigated in the shortest possible.
STAINTON; Right. So Peterborough City Council employees, the average employee, eleven point eight working days off sick last year. Is that as high as it sounds?
ROSS: It’s high. It’s very high. Typically you should be looking at around about six days in the public sector. So far as to say it’s twice what it should be, and twice what our clients certainly aim for.
STAINTON: Is there a sense that it’s the public sector, well I’ll just take an extra couple of days? Is that what goes on generally in the public sector?
ROSS: It’s very easy for people to blame it on shirking workers and say that they’ve seen people pulling sickies. That’s just not simply the case. Basically what you’ve got is a culture of mis-management of absence. And there’s a general acceptance that absence happens, there’s not a lot we can do about it. Well that’s beginning to change, and organisations are beginning to realise the millions, in fact nationally, billions that could be saved by managing absence properly.
STAINTON: So some politicians in this election might have a point when they point to cutting back on waste, and that might be one of the areas to cut back?
ROSS: Unquestionably, but I haven’t seen anything to suggest that it’s going to be done. We cover a hundred and fifteen thousand employees across the UK. We’ve reduced absence in the seventeen NHS Trusts we work with by over thirty per cent, which has saved tens of millions of pounds. Yet there doesn’t seem to be a national programme that is focusing on delivering the very easy wins, at the moment.
STAINTON: Far be it from me to suggest that Peterborough City Council use another set of consultants, but they might consider bringing you in on this. (laughs) What would your advice be to Peterborough City Council, to manage this incredibly high level of absence?
ROSS: They need to manage it. I would more than happily deal with the Chief Executive of Peterborough City Council. I would invite him over and talk about what could be done, and look we’re happy not to make a profit from it. As a case we need to solve this, and it’s just getting ridiculous, the public sector absence. But I think it’s also important not to be too harsh on Peterborough City Council. The measure that’s been used in your report is the number of days lost. When you look at both the NHS and police, they typically work longer shifts. So whilst they might have less days lost, actually when you look at it they might have more hours lost.
ROSS: So you’ve got to be very careful in reporting absence. If you look down to the minutiae you’ve got to report the number of sickness hours lost to absence. And typically you’ll find that the NHS and police are just as bad.
STAINTON. Yes. But it just struck me as an inordinate figure, a ridiculous figure, when people that work with sick people are off probably less than people that just work in the council offices. But anyway, Aaron, thank you for that. Aaron has offered his services as a consultant to manage sickness at Peterborough City Council. Any profit he makes he’s not going to take. So that’s one consultant we’ll take, isn’t it? we’ll have him.