Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust (SCH) is one of the largest employers in south Yorkshire, comprising some 3,200 employees, including nurses, doctors, healthcare scientists, and administrative and clerical staff.
With employees occupied in demanding jobs, in which they are relied upon to provide a high standard of care, SCH found by examining its sickness absence records that musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) had become the second highest cause of employee absence, below stress and anxiety.
Rachael Purdy, senior HR manager at SCH, says: “It was part of a wider approach, looking at reducing levels of sickness absence, how we can prevent people going off work, and how we can get people back to work sooner.”
The programme, which was introduced in February 2017, guarantees employees a telephone call triage within four hours, once they have been referred by the organisation. This allows employees to begin the work towards recovery long before they might have gained an initial appointment otherwise.
While the more serious and long-term cases do ultimately need to go through traditional NHS or private medical channels, the programme covers a certain number of appointments per referral. This system works as a counter to the long wait times faced by many aiming to regain their health, which in itself can lead to deterioration and unnecessary long-term absence.
Rather than relying purely on face-to-face appointments, according to monthly statistics provided by Physio Med, 72% of the referrals are able to be dealt with remotely, with telephone appointments and emailed exercises for the employee to undertake at home.
“We were actually quite surprised that a physiotherapist could diagnose over the phone,” notes Purdy. “So [employees are] not restricted by booking an appointment; there isn’t the delay.”
For those who do need a more hands-on approach to treatment, a network of physiotherapists across the country allows employees to find a location convenient to them.
“We wanted something that was fast-tracked, which we got with the four-hour triage,” explains Purdy. “Then we wanted something flexible for the patient, so either advice over the phone or if they need to go face-to-face then there’s flexibility across different locations across the country. The benefit for us is that we’re providing a service to our staff, supporting them, but trying to minimise our costs as well. It’s the best use of the resources we’ve got.”
Notwithstanding some fluctuations, SCH has noted a steady decrease in sickness absence due to musculoskeletal complaints since the programme’s introduction. To date, 150 employees have made use of the provision, with a current average of 13 to 15 referrals per month.
These results follow a communications campaign that involved information being provided on the organisation’s intranet, emails from the central communications team and speaking with managers and employees in sickness absence meetings.
“We are very pleased, and we get good feedback from staff,” concludes Purdy. “I think staff appreciate that there is something there where there was probably a gap before. We have filled that gap.”