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Sickness Absence

Volume 401: debated on Wednesday 19 March 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what the rate of staff (a) absenteeism and (b) sickness was in his Department and each of its agencies and non-departmental public bodies in each year from 1990–91 to 2002–03; what the target set is for his Department; and if he will make a statement. [93511]

In the Northern Ireland Office unauthorised absence is recorded as unpaid leave and is associated with other properly authorised unpaid absence and cannot be disaggregated.Sick absence figures are recorded by financial year for Northern Ireland Civil Servants (NIGS) and by calendar year for Home Civil Service (HCS) staff.The available information is as follows:

Northern Ireland Civil Servants
Days sick absence per staff year
Core Department (including Compensation Agency and Forensic Science Agency)12.813.4
Northern Ireland Prison Service—(non-uniformed grades)11.915.4

Two N1CS staff are on secondment to NIO NDPBs and no sick absence was reported.

The Northern Ireland Departments have set composite targets for a reduction in sick absence from 15.1 days in 2000–01 to 13.9 days by the end of 2002–03 and 13.0 days by the end of 2004–05. The NIO aims to achieve similar reductions in respect of NICS staff in the Department.

Home Civil Servants


Days sick absence per staff year


The figures for 2002 will be available shortly.

All Whitehall Departments were required in 1999 to reduce sickness absence by 20 per cent. by 2001 and by 30 per cent. by 2003. For the Northern Ireland Office (HCS staff) this was measured against the 1998 baseline of 6.5 days.

A range of initiatives has been implemented to assist in reducing sickness absence rates for both staff groups. These include raising awareness of stress management, a departmental health awareness programme, development of a departmental action plan to deliver workplace health improvement, provision of family friendly policies and fair application of inefficiency procedures.

In addition the Department plans to delegate responsibility for attendance management to line managers later this year and it is hoped that greater involvement at line management level will have a positive impact on the rate of sick absence.

In the Northern Ireland Administration unauthorised absence is recorded as unpaid leave and is associated with other properly authorised unpaid absence and cannot be disaggregated.

The information sought is only readily available for non-industrial civil servants for the period 1999–2000 to 2001–02. Comparable figures for industrial civil servants, agencies and non-departmental public bodies are not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

The following table reflects the average number of working days lost for the financial years 1999–2000, 2000–01 and 2001–02 for each of the Northern Ireland Departments. Published statistics for 2000–01 and 2001–02 for Northern Ireland Departments are accessible

Number of days lost per staff year






Due to the reorganisation of Departments following devolution, the 1999–2000 absence details were analysed according to the Department in which staff were employed at the end of the 1999–2000 financial year. The departmental figures incorporate those for their respective Agencies.

Northern Ireland Departments have now set individual business driven targets for reduction. When brought together they constitute composite targets for a reduction from a sick absence rate of 15.1 days in 2000–01 to 13.9 days by the end of 2002–03 and 13.0 days by the end of 2004–05.

The most recent report for 2001–02 identifies an improvement in sick absence levels in a number of Departments but the overall absence level for NI Departments has not changed. While it is recognised that the last two to three years have been a period of major change and upheaval for NI Departments nonetheless the current levels of sick absence continue to be a cause for major concern.

A range of corporate and departmental initiatives has been and is being taken forward to reduce the current levels of sickness absence. These include a major work force health survey; the introduction of an awareness leaflet for GPs on the support and early return mechanisms available to NICS staff; appointment of two "site" based occupational health nurses on a pilot basis; approval to recruit a psychiatric nurse; and websites on "Attendance Matters" and "Health Matters" to assist NICS managers and staff.