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Civil Service sickness levels on rise to average of 11 days a year

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 11/09/2015

One in 10 civil servants was off sick for an average of three months.
One in 10 civil servants was off sick for an average of three months.

Sick leave by stressed-out civil servants is on the rise, it has been revealed.

The average employee in the Northern Ireland Civil Service took nearly 11 working days off last year because of illness.

That is up on the previous year - and way above the target of 8.5 days.

One in 10 was off sick for an average of three months.

It is estimated that the sickness absence costs the economy almost £32m a year.

The figures are disclosed in a report published by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

Among the key findings are:

  • An average of 10.8 days were lost to sickness in the last year, representing 4.9% of available working days.
  • Days lost to illness cost an estimated £31.9m in lost production.
  • Long-term absences accounted for nearly three-quarters of all working days lost.
  • Anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illnesses were the main cause, accounting for a third of days lost.
  • Absence levels ranged from 8.2 days in the Public Prosecution Service to 14.6 days for the Department of Justice.
  • Females take longer off than males - 12.8 days compared to nine days.
  • Staff in post for under two years - half were on probationary terms - missed just 5.3 days, compared to 11.1 days by staff employed for more than two years.

Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey, who sits on the Assembly's Public Accounts Committee, expressed concern at the figures.

"If we have civil servants who have a long period on sick leave we need to know why that is the case," he said.

"In cases of genuine sickness people are entitled to take time off, but in every profession we see examples of people abusing this.

"It comes down to a management issue. These figures need to be properly examined.

"We need to know where the absences are occurring and why they are occurring."

However, Brian Campfield from the Nipsa union defended the figures.

"The vast majority of people had no sick leave," he said.

"What may be regarded as relatively high figures in comparison to others is mainly attributable to the impact of people on long-term sickness.

"Those are people who are genuinely ill with serious complaints and conditions.

"They also tend to skew the figures."

He added: "The regime in the Civil Service and other parts of the public sector is a more reasonable one than that of many private sector employers, who may have just dismissed people who are genuinely ill."

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