Concern over hospital trust's policy to stop extra shifts for staff who call in sick

Outside Lister Hospital in Stevenage

The East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust says its "sickness policy supports staff to be eased back into work" - Credit: East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

A hospital trust's policy preventing staff who call in sick from picking up extra shifts for two weeks after their return to work is creating a financial burden for those struggling to make ends meet due to the rise in cost of living, a worried worker has told this paper.

There is concern the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust's sickness absence policy will force some staff to go to work when they are unwell, because they cannot afford to lose extra shifts.

A staff member at Lister Hospital in Stevenage, who asked not to be identified, said: "Extra shifts help us to cope with the [rise in] inflation. If I call in sick today, they will ask me to cancel all my extra shifts for two weeks. Half of the month. Can you imagine if you badly need the money?"

However, the NHS trust, which runs Lister and Welwyn Garden City's New QEII Hospital, as well as Mount Vernon Cancer Centre in Northwood, says the policy is in place to protect staff's wellbeing.

Chief people officer Thomas Pounds said: “The health and wellbeing of our staff is paramount, and our sickness policy supports staff to be eased back into work after a period of sick leave by not asking them to work additional hours to their usual working contract when they first return to work. This is in place to ensure our staff are well recovered to prevent further periods of sickness."

According to the NHS trust's July board papers, "sickness absence rates continue to be significantly above target, which has been driven by the number of Covid cases in the area".

Between May 2021 and May 2022, the NHS trust failed to ever meet its monthly target of no more than 6,777 FTE days lost to sickness. In May this year, for example, 9,187 FTE days were lost.

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However, the board papers say that "the trust is performing significantly better than the previous year for sickness absence related to mental health and musculoskeletal", and "is planning an improvement trajectory for the year which represents a 10 per cent reduction for stress and mental health and a five per cent reduction for musculoskeletal compared to the previous year".