Sickness rate gives council a headache

COUNCIL workers in North Lanarkshire are still off sick too often despite a drive to improve the authority’s absence record.

The absence rate actually worsened last year and bosses admit their latest target for employees is ‘challenging’.

Meanwhile, a firm has been awarded a £750,000 three-year contract to help the council tackle this ‘top prority’.

New ideas include texting employees so they don’t forget medical appointments.

Iris Wylie, North Lanarkshire Council’s head of human resources, told councillors that in March this year the annual absence figure was 10.52 days per worker - up from 10.4 days the previous year and short of the council’s target of 9.4 days.

Ms Wylie stated: “With the exception of the chief executive’s office, all services did not meet their absence target for the year 2010/11.

“This is disappointing given the improvement in absence levels in recent years.

“There is a need to improve significantly if the council is to reach its target of 9.4 days for 2011/12 and this will remain a top priority for all services.

“This is a challenging target for the council to deliver in light of our performance in the previous financial year.”

Health Management Limited provides occupational health services for the council and will continue to do so after tendering for a new three-year contract.

Its bid of £734,000 was £225,000 lower than that of Serco Occupational Health, the only other firm to bid for the contract.

Ms Innes said: “Health management will support the council with pro-active measures to reduce sickness absence levels and promote healthy lifestyles among the workforce.

“Examples of these measures include focusing on interventions for mental health and bone/muscle/joint conditions as these feature regularly in the top five reasons for absence across all services.

“We shall also be introducing text messaging as a reminder to employees of medical appointments.”

A council spokesman said the terms of the contract allow Health Management Limited to text employees reminders of appointments with occupational therapists, but there are no immediate plans to introduce this.

The council is confident the situation will improve again. Latest figures show that absences in April, May and June were down on the same months last year.