Intended for healthcare professionals


Long term sickness absence

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 07 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:802
  1. Max Henderson, clinical research fellow in liaison psychiatry (,
  2. Nicholas Glozier, consultant occupational psychiatrist,
  3. Kevin Holland Elliott, professor of occupational health and health risk management
  1. Institute of Psychiatry, Department of Psychological Medicine, Weston Education Centre, London SE5 9RJ
  2. Department of Occupational Health and Safety, King's College Hospital NHS Trust, London SE5 9RS
  3. Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PH

    Is caused by common conditions and needs managing

    Sickness absence is a major public health and economic problem. In 2003, 176 million working days were lost; up 10 million on the previous year.1 Each week 1 million people report sick, 3000 of whom will still be away from work at six months.2 Only 20% of people receiving incapacity benefit for more than six months will return to work in the following five years.3 The costs are enormous. Each year, £13bn ($25bn; €19bn) are spent on benefits such as incapacity benefit, and the cost to industry is at least £11bn.4 Long term sickness absence contributes disproportionately to these figures. Although they constitute only a small fraction of absence episodes, longer absences comprise more than a third of total days lost and up to 75% of absence costs.1 2 Longer absences are associated with a reduced probability of eventual return to work and subsequent economic and social deprivation.

    The government is increasingly aware of the issue and has made the reduction of work related ill health and disability, and resulting absence, …

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