Sicknote Britain - GPs blame bosses as illness rates at work soar

Article date: 12 July 2006

New research out today reveals that a third (34%) of GPs havenoticed a dramatic increase in the number of people needing to besigned off work for seven days or more. According to GPs, employersthemselves are at fault with nine out of 10 doctors (94%) blamingcompanies for failing to take responsibility for theiremployees’ health and wellbeing.

Ill health and absenteeism currently cost UK businesses£13bn1 a year and doctors predict that is set to soarunless employers take urgent action to help workers manage theirhealth. HR directors report that the major health problemsaffecting workers are stress (76%), back problems (63%) anddepression (57%) Рall issues that can be caused orexacerbated by the working environment.

Norwich Union Healthcare’s Health of the Workplacereport, which surveyed employers and GPs across thecountry, stresses that employee health has a significant impact onthe bottom line of an organisation. The effects of absences can beespecially damaging when key staff are off sick. Forty-two percentof companies have said they have struggled with key members ofstaff being off for long periods of time, causing widespreaddisruption:

  • 68% say this has lead to overstretched teams
  • 64% say teams lack leadership and direction as aconsequence
  • 45% believe it caused morale problems and resentment
  • 31% say key accounts or clients were put in jeopardy

In spite of the clear business need, Norwich UnionHealthcare’s Health of the Workplace Report alsouncovers a worrying conflict on the part of UK businesses to thehealth and wellbeing of their staff. Only 38% of UK companies seeemployee wellbeing as an HR priority and 40% of companies ignore itcompletely as they do not have any system in place for healthmanagement.

One explanation for the lack of investment in this area is thatmany (43%) UK companies choose to manage health issues on acase-by-case basis. The report suggests that this is a riskyshort-term strategy and almost half of the companies (46%) admitthey don’t invest enough time or resources in pre-emptingsickness. Moreover, 70% of companies do not see employees’health as their responsibility.

GPs have a clear view on where the responsibility lies. On top ofthe vast majority (94%) who believe that firms don’t doenough to prevent workers falling ill, the same number blamecompanies for failing those staff who are ill and not doing enoughto help them back to work. Furthermore, doctors are concerned thatinadequate NHS frontline services for conditions, such asdepression, leave employees with nowhere to turn.

With the government seeking to reform sickness benefits through theWelfare Reform Bill introduced last week, GPs and employers will becoming under increased pressure to act in this area over the nextyear. Norwich Union Healthcare is urging businesses to act now toavoid the crippling effect of rising sickness and absencerates.

Tim Baker, director at Norwich Union Healthcare, comments:“These figures show that the system is failing workers.Greater co-operation is needed between GPs and employers to find asolution to rising illness caused at work. Businesses must look tothe many examples that exist within both the public and privatesector of organisations, such as the Royal Mail and Rolls Royce,which have actively promoted a healthy workplace and proactivelymanaged adverse health effects and consequently achieved areduction in absence and ill health and increases inproductivity.

“Businesses and GPs must not blame one another and each bearresponsibility for tackling the problems of employee ill health.Grasping the issue and adopting a joined up approach betweenstakeholders means that also the widespread benefits of tacklingthe issues can be shared.”

Norwich Union Healthcare - Health of the Workplace Report June 2006


Media contacts:
Chris Lauwerys or MelanieCorbett
Lexis Public Relations 
Telephone: 020 7908 6488

Norwich Union Press Officecontacts:
Cheryl Cox: 07800 695 275 or 01904 452791

Notes to editors:

1Annual CBI Absence Survey, May 152006

Case studies available on request.

About the research
Norwich Union Healthcarecommissioned Dr Foster Research Ltd to conduct research amongstapproximately 250 practicing GPs from across the UK in September2005.

Norwich Union Healthcare commissioned Vanson Bourne Ltd to conductresearch amongst 214 businesses from across the UK in May/June2006. Businesses were split equally between those with 205-1000employees and 1000 or more employees.

About Norwich Union Healthcare
NorwichUnion Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcare arm ofNorwich Union and now provides a range of income protection andprivate medical insurance products that cover over 870,000 lives.It is one of the largest providers of income protection and privatemedical insurance in the UK.

We provide Occupational Health Solutions services to a wide rangeof industry sectors. By utilising our large fleet of purpose builtmobile clinics and approved medical centres, staffed by a team ofexperienced Occupational Physicians and nursing staff, all ourOccupational Health services are designed to meet the individualneeds of our clients.

Norwich Union Healthcare is authorised and regulated by theFinancial Services Authority and is a member of the Association ofBritish Insurers and the Financial Ombudsman Service.

Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of images areavailable from Aviva’s internet press centre at

About Dr Foster Research Ltd
Dr Foster Research Ltd isthe leading independent authority on healthcare quality in the UK.Its information can be accessed via publications such as theHospital Guide and online at

Dr Foster Research Ltd is the sister company to Dr FosterIntelligence, which provides expert analysis to the NHS.

An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers to enforceeditorial and research integrity oversees the organisation.

Further information is available at or directfrom Dan Collins, Client Services Manager, DF Research, 17 StHelen’s Place, London, EC3A 6DG.

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