How far should you go in managing staff sickness absence?

Every UK employer has legal obligations and responsibilities for the health and safety of their employees. Phoenix Medical Supplies Limited (Phoenix) have their own approach to sickness absence strategies, advocating that their employee wellbeing is fundamental to its corporate vision – to be the best integrated healthcare provider.

Community pharmacies are the most accessible healthcare service in the NHS family, helping 1.8 million patients each day, dispensing one billion prescriptions each year and delivering vital services like NHS flu vaccinations.

Phoenix is one of the largest providers of healthcare to patients including the more deprived or rural areas of the UK at a time when GP surgeries are over-stretched. Phoenix ensure that hospitals, doctors and pharmacies throughout the UK have a reliable supply – often twice per day – of essential drugs on demand through their extensive supply chain.

Phoenix recognises that the provision of healthcare is something that can be extended to its own workforce which can assist in the reduction of employee absence. The Company was keen to find new and alternative ways to protect, promote and restore the health of its 6,400 workforce who operate within wholesaler depots, fleet, pharmacy and the UK’s biggest independent community pharmacy membership, Numark.

The Phoenix Employee Relations team recognise that health and wellbeing is at the heart of everything they do and ensure that initiatives are in line with its corporate philosophy. For them, supporting employees with physical or mental health issues is always an essential part of the employee life cycle and positive experience.

The Company are able to refer their employees to HCML, an occupational rehabilitation provider, as an early intervention measure when they are responding to matters of health. HCML assess a variety of health concerns including musculoskeletal (MSK) and mental health. This may include face to face discussions with employees and HCML provide detailed reports which incorporate action plans all geared towards aiding recovery.

HCML have supported Phoenix in the creation of journey plans that are easy to follow in addition to providing tools for line managers to help support and guide employees. They have analysed roles and shared physiotherapy knowledge in order to aid recovery and prevent injury. They have also supported colleagues with more serious and complex conditions through its 70 clinical case managers who are located across the country. Some referrals are due to unresolvable long-term absences and HCML can provide self-help tools including advice on how to manage symptoms such as fatigue and pain.

Phoenix have employees who are in the caring community and they naturally form bonds with their patients who they wish to fully support. Working in healthcare, often with patients who have long-term debilitating conditions can be challenging. As a responsible employer, Phoenix with the assistance from HCML can provide the additional support that employees may need from time-to-time. Phoenix also provides a mental health counselling service which often provides support based on talking therapies.

“HCML’s reports are essential and their action plans are clear and practical to us as an employer. HCML are best placed to provide medical and clinical assessments on our referrals and they supply an independent occupational health advice.’’ explained Christine Tasker, HR Delivery Manager.

“Employees tell us that they appreciate the Company sourcing additional support on what are sometimes very personal or complex issues. HCML create bespoke plans with us that employees and their managers can follow, and this gives employees a sense of autonomy and independence.  It can also help to inspire our employees to manage self-recovery and general health.”

Phoenix are committed to the principles of early interventions, which means helping employees address injuries and ill-health problems quickly and returning them to work if that’s appropriate whilst supporting others in work through appropriately managed adjustments.

Phoenix have found that early intervention is really successful in general and understand that the longer employees are off work the more difficult it may be for them to re-engage.   HCML have contributed to their return to work rates particularly in cases of long term sickness absence. Phoenix work closely with HCML to ensure that they provide an overall multi layered approach to health and wellbeing.