There is still room for 
improvements in sick leave

For Cheryl, it's never just 'a lick of paint'

CHERYL GIBBS: I was almost on first-name terms with the B&Q staff

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If you’re sick and you genuinely can’t make it into work, then of course you should be staying at home.

But at Portsmouth City Council they still have a problem with the number of sick days taken by their staff.

Given the virulence of the strain of flu doing the rounds this winter, that will have undoubtedly had an impact on the figures.

It is heartening to see that newly revealed statistics show a downward trend in sick days, albeit a small one – from 8.69 days per council worker in 2017, to 8.59 for the past 12 months.

However, it remains above the council’s target figure of seven, which even then is still two above the average figure for the private sector.

Let us be clear, we are not accusing staff of throwing sickies or faking illness to take unwarranted time off.

That said, there must be some reason why absence rates remain relatively high. And it is only when we dig down into those numbers that a clearer picture emerges.

In adult services staff recorded an average of 12.47 days off ill, and in public health they took off 12.6 days.

Councillor Luke Stubbs, in charge of health matters for the authority, is right to applaud the improvements that have been made. And he is also right in highlighting the underlying ‘almost institutional’ problems in reducing those numbers further.

With anxiety and stress-related problems among the top reason for absence, it’s hardly surprising that the departments among the most affected are those that have been among the hardest hit by cuts in recent years.

And as anyone who has ever had the misfortune to have been, or been around those afflicted by stress, it can have knock-on effects on other aspects of health.

Cllr Stubbs attributes the increased number of days off in these departments to strict controls on returning to work after being ill to prevent bugs from spreading.

And while this can account for some of the increased figure, it would surely be unwise to discount the potential impact of stress.