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Healthier and d happier at work; Sickness levels at a North East council has fallen significantly over the years. Reporter LAURA HEAD takes a look at what measures are in place to help staff maintain their health and wellbeing.

Byline: LAURA HEAD

SICKNESS surgeries, an Occupational Health Unit and training and workshops are just some measures that have helped save about pounds 3.89m for one Council.

Newcastle City Council has seen the number of sick days taken by staff fall almost 32% - from 12.2 days taken per employee in 2004 to 8.3 days in 2011 - thanks to the proactive measures.

Coun Hazel Stephenson, Cabinet Member for the Chief Executive, said: "The council has worked very hard over the last seven years.

"We have put in place a raft of measures to support staff while at the same time improving their wellbeing with health road shows."

Anxiety-related conditions and illnesses relating to the movement of the body were identified as the most common causes of absence.

By recognising these widespread causes, the city council has been able to work closely with outside bodies to give staff members the help they need to get back to work.

Immediate Occupational Health Unit referrals for any employees reporting these conditions were high on the list of responses dealt out by the council and helped to ensure that employees were and are well looked after.

Alongside this, workers were also given easy access to physiotherapy treatment and acupuncture if needed.

It was these measures that helped Deborah Wrightson get back to work after suffering severe back pain and finding herself off work and on sick for four months. k pay Bed-ridden and thinking that could no longer work because of agonizing pain she was experienc the city council got hold of her to her that she could receive physiot apy from them to help ease the p she f the cing, o tell therprobyou lem.

She said: "I wasn''t aware that could get help through the coun especially not physiotherapy. ncil, "I was just taking medication f the doctor for the pain when w contacted me and told me they co offer me this help. It was great. from work ould ably rapy much aight "I mean, the doctors prob would have sent me for physiother at some point but this was so m quicker and dealt with the issue stra away." The customer services assistant sent to the council's Occupatio Health Unit, who in turn immedia referred her on for physiotherapy Newcastle City Swimming Pool.

was onal ately y at Deborah, of St Anne's Close, N castle, said: "It was fantastic. As soo the physiotherapy kicked in, I insta felt so much better. Newon as antly "It may have only been a quick for the time being, but it gives you confidence you need to be produc again and really encourages you to working once more. k-fix that ctive start "It gives you something to l forward to again." look Not only was Deborah able to ret to work, but after being taught the s and symptoms to look out for in future, she is now able to deal with pain before it gets too worse. turn signs n the h any She said: "They gave me all signs I needed to be aware of and no I feel anything like that happening ring and the Occupational Health U will book me more physiother straight away. the ow if I can Unit rapy "The council always want to k informed of what's happening and ring me to check up and to see that attending the appointments and tha getting better. keep will t I'm at it's "It's just great, they're dead s portive." supthe According to the 46-year-old, council is always working to ensure that workstations are right for employee, whether it be by giving th the right chair or by consistently ch ing that they are comfortable able to work. each hem heckand pain d on But it is not just physical p that the council has focussed however. Recognising that anxi related disorders are also ofte blame for many of the sickn days taken by staff, the cou has worked hard to impleme system addressing these issu The introduction of co selling services avail through the Occupatio Health Unit has hel to minimise the d age anxiety-rel disorders cause. ietyen to ness uncil ent a ues. ounlable onal lped damated can The installat tion of a specialty 24-hour counselling advice line has helped to support employees during the early onset of any difficulties and helped to prevent problems becoming more serious.

A mental health first aid scheme is also being piloted across Adult and Culture services which aims to deal with those who present signs of distress quickly and efficiently. The policies have been implemented up and down the management level of the Council so every employee is covered. "It was kicked in I have only it gives productive start working Coun Stephenson said: "Managers are clear on their responsibilities in managing sickness absence, such as the need to speak to staff about absence, monitoring and supporting them where necessary." It is this combined effort that has ensured that sickness levels have dropped across the council.

Together with combating the reasons for sick days, the council have also worked hard to create a system dealing with the health and wellbeing of their staff.

The frameworks are aimed at increasing access to information and encouraging participation among staff for core health policies and services.

Over the last three years, the council has worked towards achieving gold level for the North East Better Health at Work Award, currently having attained both bronze and silver.

These awards have meant that the framework put in place to deliver a wide range of wellbeing and health activities for staff have been highly rated by external assessors.

As part of the council's overall care for the general health of their staff an enthusiastic team are in place to help deal with anything that comes their way and monthly road shows are organised and held at their various offices citywide.

A dedicated team of Health Advocates - who aim to promote wellbeing and health from within the workforce - is responsible for planning these events.

physiotherapy better. It may being, but need to be you to something The road shows provide staff with the chance to get basic health checks such as cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, blood pressure and body composition.

The team works in partnership with both internal specialists and external bodies such as MacMillan, Mind, The Stroke Association and Newcastle Primary Care Trust. Information on a wide range of health and lifestyle issues is also made readily available to any staff member who may need it.

This in turn helps to educate people on topics such as healthy eating, mental wellbeing, alcohol awareness, stopping smoking support, getting active and welfare rights.

Coun Stephenson said: "As a Council we are proud of our achievements, but are not complacent and believe that by putting in place further ways of helping staff we can drive down sickness absence yet further to save money and put it into services where it is needed most."

It can be noted that the council is aware that in the current economic climate it is vital for employees to be cared for in both their health and wellbeing needs and the measures put in place aim to deal with this both now and in the future.

The council endeavours to continually improve on these figures and hopes to lower staff sickness days below the 8.3 days that are currently taken.

Plans such as developing emotional resilience workshops for staff, identifying opportunities for earlier interventions than already occur and case management workshops involving managers, Human Resources and Occupational Health are also on the cards.

CAPTION(S):

COUNCIL Sickness levels have now dropped RENEWED EFFORT Newcastle councillor Hazel Stephenson PHYSIOTHERAPY Deborah Wrightson is back to work after suffering severe back pain and finding herself off work and on sick pay for four months
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Nov 21, 2011
Words:1310
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