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Changing patterns of sickness absence among healthcare workers in England during the COVID-19 pandemic

Changing patterns of sickness absence among healthcare workers in England during the COVID-19 pandemic
Changing patterns of sickness absence among healthcare workers in England during the COVID-19 pandemic

BACKGROUND: Patterns of sickness absence shed useful light on disease occurrence and illness-related behaviours in working populations.

METHODS: We analysed prospectively collected, pseudonymized data on 959 356 employees who were continuously employed by National Health Service trusts in England from 1 January 2019 to 31 July 2020, comparing the frequency of new sickness absence in 2020 with that at corresponding times in 2019.

RESULTS: After exclusion of episodes directly related to COVID-19, the overall incidence of sickness absence during the initial 10 weeks of the pandemic (March-May 2020) was more than 20% lower than in corresponding weeks of 2019. Trends for specific categories of illness varied substantially, with a fall by 24% for cancer, but an increase for mental illness. A doubling of new absences for pregnancy-related disorders during May-July of 2020 was limited to women with earlier COVID-19 sickness absence.

CONCLUSIONS: Various factors will have contributed to the large and divergent changes that were observed. The findings reinforce concerns regarding delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancers and support a need to plan for a large backlog of treatment for many other diseases. Further research should explore the rise in absence for pregnancy-related disorders among women with earlier COVID-19 sickness absence.

COVID-19, healthcare workers, sickness absence
1741-3842
e42-e50
Edge, Rhiannon
46b613a8-e035-43c2-8342-70af98701608
van der Plaat, Diana A
ae7fbb1a-a36d-4e1f-9072-85950605ec98
Parsons, Vaughan
5599eaba-c97b-4c50-97b3-d32969d44124
Coggon, David
2b43ce0a-cc61-4d86-b15d-794208ffa5d3
van Tongeren, Martie
867598b9-e698-490c-8df2-19dd657c1779
Muiry, Rupert
ed06e39c-aca5-47c6-983e-2104c0eafefd
Madan, Ira
c6fd0de4-6d73-47eb-9e97-79a2941c8767
Cullinan, Paul
b5b2eb0a-9fb9-4d4b-af18-5109de92d742
Edge, Rhiannon
46b613a8-e035-43c2-8342-70af98701608
van der Plaat, Diana A
ae7fbb1a-a36d-4e1f-9072-85950605ec98
Parsons, Vaughan
5599eaba-c97b-4c50-97b3-d32969d44124
Coggon, David
2b43ce0a-cc61-4d86-b15d-794208ffa5d3
van Tongeren, Martie
867598b9-e698-490c-8df2-19dd657c1779
Muiry, Rupert
ed06e39c-aca5-47c6-983e-2104c0eafefd
Madan, Ira
c6fd0de4-6d73-47eb-9e97-79a2941c8767
Cullinan, Paul
b5b2eb0a-9fb9-4d4b-af18-5109de92d742

Edge, Rhiannon, van der Plaat, Diana A, Parsons, Vaughan, Coggon, David, van Tongeren, Martie, Muiry, Rupert, Madan, Ira and Cullinan, Paul (2022) Changing patterns of sickness absence among healthcare workers in England during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Public Health, 44 (1), e42-e50. (doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdab341).

Record type: Article

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Patterns of sickness absence shed useful light on disease occurrence and illness-related behaviours in working populations.

METHODS: We analysed prospectively collected, pseudonymized data on 959 356 employees who were continuously employed by National Health Service trusts in England from 1 January 2019 to 31 July 2020, comparing the frequency of new sickness absence in 2020 with that at corresponding times in 2019.

RESULTS: After exclusion of episodes directly related to COVID-19, the overall incidence of sickness absence during the initial 10 weeks of the pandemic (March-May 2020) was more than 20% lower than in corresponding weeks of 2019. Trends for specific categories of illness varied substantially, with a fall by 24% for cancer, but an increase for mental illness. A doubling of new absences for pregnancy-related disorders during May-July of 2020 was limited to women with earlier COVID-19 sickness absence.

CONCLUSIONS: Various factors will have contributed to the large and divergent changes that were observed. The findings reinforce concerns regarding delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancers and support a need to plan for a large backlog of treatment for many other diseases. Further research should explore the rise in absence for pregnancy-related disorders among women with earlier COVID-19 sickness absence.

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Accepted/In Press date: 3 August 2021
e-pub ahead of print date: 11 September 2021
Published date: 1 March 2022
Additional Information: Publisher Copyright: © 2021 The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of Faculty of Public Health. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com. Copyright: Copyright 2022 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.
Keywords: COVID-19, healthcare workers, sickness absence

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 457250
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/457250
ISSN: 1741-3842
PURE UUID: 42d86e81-3f58-4ce9-9c02-2fef3daa4e60
ORCID for David Coggon: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0003-1930-3987

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Date deposited: 27 May 2022 16:53
Last modified: 03 Aug 2022 04:01

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Contributors

Author: Rhiannon Edge
Author: Diana A van der Plaat
Author: Vaughan Parsons
Author: David Coggon ORCID iD
Author: Martie van Tongeren
Author: Rupert Muiry
Author: Ira Madan
Author: Paul Cullinan

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