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Employees off sick reaches record high

May 30, 2023
Employees off sick reaches record high
May 30, 2023

A record number of people are currently off sick from work, reveal the latest figures recorded by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). More than 2.5million people are currently unable to work due to ill health – that’s a lot of people. 

So what’s to blame for this increase and how can you get the help you need to get back to work? Read on to find out.


What’s causing so much sick leave?


Each week, 1 million workers will take sick leave in the UK alone.


There are a number of factors, says ZoomDoc’s Chief Medical Officer and GP, Dr Kenny Livingstone, who’s noticed a considerable rise in sick letter requests from patients, via ZoomDoc’s Medical Letters service (more on this below).


‘We’ve had thousands of sick note requests in the last year so the ONS statistics don’t surprise me,’ he says. 


‘People are coming to us because they’re struggling to access their own GP for a sick note. Unfortunately, this also suggests people may not have been able to see a doctor for treatment they need to get them well and back to work, as soon as possible,’ he adds.


The ONS research says the main causes of being off sick long-term are:


  • Mental health issues, particularly in younger people.
  • Back and neck problems, possibly caused from people working from home.
  • Post-viral fatigue – linked to long COVID.


‘We’re seeing a lot of stress, anxiety and mental health preventing patients from working, but also flu and gastro bugs that are hitting people pretty hard, possibly a link to our immunity not yet recovered from lockdowns and COVID,’ says Dr Kenny.


What to do if you’re unwell


If you can’t get hold of your GP, a pharmacist can give you advice about many common minor illnesses


If illness or mental health is keeping you off work, do contact your GP. If you’re struggling to get an appointment, explain to the receptionist that it’s keeping you off work and do keep trying (politely). 


Failing that, you can always contact private GP services, such as ZoomDoc, where you can download our app to speak to a doctor at a time to suit you.

‘Our GPs can give you further advice on what to do to help get you back on your feet,’ says Dr Kenny.


Long COVID is still relatively hard to treat as it affects different people in different ways. Ask your doctor about the NHS’s COVID Recovery programme and find more help and support here.


If you’re struggling to get help with mental health, you can get same-day support from a number of charities and helplines, including:


Find more mental health contacts via the NHS here.


Where to get a sick note


Get a same day work sickness certificate from ZoomDoc Health.


If you’re off sick, your employer may ask you for proof. You can get this from your GP but another way to save yourself an extra trip – not to mention freeing up an appointment for someone else – is to order it online here. Simply select ‘Work Sickness Certificate’ and you can purchase a same-day letter for £40 – roughly what your NHS practice will charge for it anyway. Plus, you’ll need to collect that one in person.


‘We’re noticing some employers are asking employees for a sick note after a few days but legally you don’t need one until you’ve been off or unwell for 7 days,’ says Dr Kenny.


Find out more about your employment rights and sick pay here.


How to prevent time off sick


Learn how to reduce sickness absence in the workplace


The best way to stay well is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get regular exercise. Viruses will always circulate but you’ll have the best chance of fighting them off quickly if you maintain a healthy lifestyle – eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise is your best form of preventative medicine, so to speak.


Back problems can be tricky to treat once they start. While it can be tempting to work on the sofa or even at a kitchen table, this can create back problems or make current issues worse.


Top tips for preventing a bad back keeping you off work are to:

  • stay active and try to continue with your daily activities
  • take anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen – paracetamol on its own is not recommended for back pain but it may be used with another painkiller
  • use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel to reduce pain and swelling
  • use a heat pack (or hot water bottle) wrapped in a tea towel to relieve joint stiffness or muscle spasms
  • try doing some exercises and stretches for back pain
  • Not stay in bed for long periods of time

(Source: NHS)

Find more help with back pain here.

Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.