Northern Ireland sickness rates found to be double UK average

By on 16/10/2017
Stormont Castle, home of the Northern Ireland Executive (Image courtesy: Ross/geograph.org.uk).

New figures on absenteeism in the Northern Ireland Civil Service reveal that the province’s officials take twice as many days off sick as the UK-wide average – and the rate has increased by more than 5% over the last year.

A report by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) reveals that an average of 12.4 days was taken off work during 2016-2017, compared to 11.7 days during the previous year. Civil Service sickness absence figures for the UK-wide service, published by the Cabinet Office, show that the number of Average Working Days Lost (AWDL) per person for the year ending 31 March 2016 was 6.1 days.

Anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses account for the greatest proportion of working days lost in Northern Ireland.

These problems may be linked to Northern Ireland’s precarious political situation. Civil servants have been working without a ministerial executive since January, when Sinn Fein pulled out and prompted fresh elections; these saw gains for the nationalist side, but Sinn Fein and their biggest opponent – the Democratic Unionist Party – have failed to reach agreement on creating a new power-sharing agreement.

However, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA) – a 43,000-strong union largely representing public sector staff – argues that raised sickness levels reflect the additional pressure on staff created by cuts and organisational reform programmes.

“Management continue to make cuts, attack terms and conditions, change how people work and pile on more pressure whilst totally failing to address the root cause of the problem,” said a spokesman. “Each year a report is issued that is based on data only and not informed by the true reasons that lie behind the data.

“NICS management do not comment on the report, as they know only too well that they carry the responsibility for a workplace that fails to properly assess the problems and fails to protect staff from harm caused by applying continuous additional pressure on staff with less resources.”

Ulster Unionist Member of the Legislative Assembly Steve Aiken called for research into the problem: “Answers are needed as to why sickness absence is so much more of a problem here compared to the rest of the UK,” he said. “This is coming at a major financial cost to the public purse and just at a time when the rest of the NICS is under growing pressure to maintain public services.”

About Glen Munro

Glen Munro has worked as a journalist for a wide variety of trade and consumer titles, including the Daily Express, the Independent and the Evening Standard. Topics he has covered during his career include business issues, personal finance, travel and African and Caribbean affairs.

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