• How absence management can save lives

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    With absence costing the UK economy £18 billion pounds per year, Suzanne Monk, clinical governance officer for FirstCare, examines how a nurse-led absence management policy can not only save your company money, it can also save lives.

    A pretty bold statement you may suggest, but here at FirstCare we have the data and endorsements to back this up.

    It’s all part of our Complete Support service, where employees phoning in sick – at any time of day 24/7 – receive advice from a trained medical professional. We are the only absence management specialists to employ registered nurses.

    All our nurses are trained to identify a ‘Code Red’. It requires all their years of experience to read the signals – and potentially save lives. As soon as a code red is flagged – suggesting a serious health concern – the caller is advised to dial 999 or attend Accident and Emergency at their nearest hospital.

    And it occurs in around one in every 750 of the calls answered by the nurse advisors in our contact centre. One caller, a physiotherapist as it happens, told us our advice saved her a lot of pain and possibly from getting very ill. There is no way she would have gone to Accident and Emergency as she just assumed she had stomach ache.

    She had told our nurse she had severe abdominal pain and – after answering some key questions – was advised to go straight to Accident and Emergency. She was quickly admitted and put on the list for emergency surgery, where it was discovered she had a perforated appendix.

    The first thing the nurse will do at the outset of any call is to undertake Data Protection Act checks to ensure we’re compliant. Following that, he or she will begin our triage pathway, STRAWS:

    S – Set the scene.

    T – Triage using the red flag app – written by the Accident and Emergency consultant at the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, this app is kept up to date by the Company Medical Adviser and the Clinical Governance Officer.

    R – Reassure.

    A – Advice.

    W – Worsening Advice.

    S – Signpost.

    Once the triage is complete, the nurse will then log the reason for the absence, record the lost time and discuss a return to work (RTW). On average, our nurse advisors take 5,800 calls each month. Eight of those calls are code reds, which require the caller to attend Accident and Emergency or dial 999.

    Another example of an employee who will be ‘forever grateful’ for our code red advice was a man who was told by an Accident and Emergency doctor that they had just hours to save him from permanent disability.

    It isn’t just in emergency situations that users of our nurse-led service benefit from help, care, advice and support. When they phone in, employees know they’ll be speaking to a trained professional who will understand their situation.

    This is particularly relevant when the reason for absence is sensitive – a mental health issue, for example – which they might not feel comfortable discussing with their manager. It also has a positive impact on team morale, as your employees will know that the reasons for their colleagues’ absence are genuine and of course, treatment is consistent across the business.

    Some of the feedback we’ve had illustrates the impact that our nurses have on the day-to-day lives of our service users. Again, one council employee said that her nurse advisor delivered advice and information that was “more helpful than anything she’d received from her doctor or dentist”. She added that she prefers to speak to us rather than contact her manager when she’s unwell.

    The fact that our service is available 24 hours, seven days a week also generates positive feedback. A service user expressed her surprise and gratitude for the advice she received over a weekend. She said she was worried she wouldn’t be able to get through to her doctor. The fact that she could have a quick chat with one of our nurses was “very impressive and reassuring.”

    Essentially, it’s like having a private 111 service. There’s no set call length targets, so if, for example, there’s a call at 3am that requires 45 minutes, that’s what we’ll deliver. Our nurse-led service also makes life easier for HR teams. The benefits include the removal of pressure from managers, who can find it awkward to speak to employees about health issues. And early intervention is facilitated, which can prevent chronic illness.

    In addition, helping employees to return to work avoids “Sick Building Syndrome” – where the longer an employee is off work, the harder it is for them to return. The service is fully integrated, meaning it’s easy to monitor employees and assess the impact of treatment pathways.

    The impact of our Complete Support nurse-led service can, indeed, be significant and there is nothing comparable that can save employees’ lives and employers’ costs. “Code Red” or not, our team is on call 24/7 to ensure employees gain health advice and support in returning to work.