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Publication, Part of

NHS Sickness Absence Rates May 2020, Provisional Statistics

Official statistics

Page contents

Data Quality


The data is extracted from an operational system which may change slightly over time due to its live status and potential additional updates. Current analyses have shown that data for the same time frame, extracted 6 months later has a difference at a national level of less than 0.1%. No refreshes of the data will take place either as part of the regular publication process, or where minor enhancements to the methodology have an insignificant impact on the figures. NHS Digital seeks to minimise inaccuracies and the effect of missing and invalid data but responsibility for data accuracy lies with the organisations providing the data. Methods are continually being updated to improve data quality.

It is possible that certain factors have an influence on calculated sickness rates. For example, higher rates may be a result of the influence of better management in organisations, and lower rates may be due to under recording.



The relevance of NHS workforce data is maintained by reference to working groups who oversee both data and reporting standards. Major changes to either are subject to approval by the Data Coordination Board (DCB) which replaced the Standardisation Committee for Care Information (SCCI) from 1 April 2017.

Significant changes to workforce publications (e.g. frequency or methodology) are subject to consultation, in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics.


Comparability and Coherence 

This is the latest publication of Sickness Absence statistics using data from the ESR. Bank staff, Primary Care staff and staff from the one Trust which are not on ESR, Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, are not included in this data.

Prior to this publication series, sickness absence statistics were released in 2006 using 2005 data. In that survey and the ones in previous years, organisations were asked to report a single rate for their entire organisation, which they calculated themselves for either the entire year, or for whichever months they were able to collect data for.

Sickness absence rates from this survey series and historical surveys cannot be meaningfully compared as this will not produce “like for like” estimates for the following reasons:

  • This survey series contains rates based solely on the number of days lost to sickness absence. In the previous series organisations were instructed to calculate their own rates based on either hours or days lost;
  • The quarterly figures in this survey series are based on a snapshot of 3 set months of data, and sickness absence is subject to marked seasonal variation. Historical surveys were based on data from between 1 and 12 months of the year, from any part of the year, with the months used varying between organisations.

The figures are also not directly comparable with figures issued by the then Department of Health (DH; now the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), or the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In April 2020, data by Health Education England (HEE) region was amended to reflect NHS England (NHSE) regions. Data for the time series have been updated and therefore figures from these recent publications (which include time series data) should always be used for working with historical data. Care should be taken in the interpretation of comparisons using these figures.

To make meaningful comparisons across sectors outside of healthcare, these figures are best viewed alongside employment areas that involve infectious conditions, traumatic situations and assaults on employees.


Timeliness and Punctuality 

We currently plan to publish within 4 months of the data time stamp. For example, a monthly publication, published in December uses ESR data for August of the same year. The August data is extracted from the ESR Data Warehouse in mid-November, providing Trusts with 2 months of ESR operational use to ensure their business processes have captured all relevant sickness absences in their Trusts for August. Data will typically be published on the 21st of the month in which publication occurs, unless that falls on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday in which case it will be the Thursday before or first Tuesday thereafter, (or first Wednesday thereafter if a Bank Holiday Monday is involved) to allow for 24 hour pre-release access. 



This publication consists of high-level NHS Sickness Absence statistics at a National and NHSE region level. Rates are presented in 4 separate tables showing the National and NHSE region monthly rates, rates by staff group, rates by type of organisation and rates at organisation level. Further detailed analyses may be available on request, subject to resource limits and compliance with disclosure control requirements.


Performance cost and respondent burden

The statistics exploit the roll-out of the ESR administrative system, which reduces the burden on NHS Organisations in completing and returning this data by extracting it directly.


Confidentiality, Transparency and Security 

We apply NHS Digital’s data security and confidentiality policies when we produce our publications. Where necessary, we apply statistical disclosure control to maintain confidentiality; for example, annual sickness rates by organisations are suppressed if the organisation had fewer than 3,720 days available in the period.


Glossary and Definitions 

Full-time equivalent (FTE) is a standardised measure of the workload of an employed person. An FTE of 1.0 means that the hours a person works is equivalent to a full-time worker; an FTE of 0.5 signals that the worker is half-time.

Using FTE enables us to convert part-time and extra working hours into an equivalent number of full-time staff. We calculate FTE by dividing the total number of hours worked by staff in a specific staff group by 37.5.

NHS England Regions – Localised regions within NHS England. The role of area teams is to commission high quality primary care services, support and develop CCGs and assess and assure performance. They manage and cultivate local partnerships and stakeholder relationships, including representation on health and wellbeing boards.

Last edited: 23 June 2021 4:24 pm