A GP employer’s guide to managing frequent short-term absences

by James Nolan

Managing sick leave and short-term absence is essential for GP practices. The employer advisory service can support the process

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 24 August 2022

Frequent short-term absence is challenging for any employer, especially when the employee is in a key role. So it’s crucial for GP practices to effectively manage sick leave, but also to identify and manage the risks associated with it.

In one case, a single-handed GP relied heavily on the support of his PM (practice manager). However, the PM recorded sporadic sick leave and this resulted in disruption to patient services, increased work pressure for those remaining, added financial cost to the practice and an adverse effect on staff morale.

Despite several informal meetings with the PM, the sick leave continued, and the situation was unsustainable.

The GP employer contacted the EAS (the BMA employer advisory service) and we supported them by:

  • providing tailored HR and employment law advice and support to the GP partner in managing sick leave
  • identifying any risks of disability discrimination, and advising on how to eradicate or minimise those risks
  • advising on long-term solutions to ongoing poor attendance, and whether a disciplinary sanction could be appropriate
  • reviewing the practice’s policies and procedures to ensure its absence process was robust and legally compliant.

With coaching from the EAS adviser, the GP held a formal absence review meeting with the PM, and issued a disciplinary sanction in line with their procedure. The adviser and employer worked together to identify a strategy to improve the PM’s overall attendance. This intervention was successful, and the PM’s attendance improved significantly.

The advice and guidance provided by the operatives was extremely prompt and professional and allowed me to deal with the issue swiftly
Feedback from a GP after seeking help from the EAS

Identifying underlying medical conditions

In other cases, frequent short-term absences indicate an underlying medical condition which identifies an employee as disabled. A disabled employee has the right not to be discriminated against, as explained in the BMJ Learning hub’s e-learning module, Disability discrimination and the duty to make reasonable adjustments.

An occupational health report should give guidance to the employer regarding any recommended reasonable adjustments they can make to support the employee.

With the specialist HR support of the EAS, we can help you:

  • prevent costly and damaging litigation
  • identify trends and causes of sick leave
  • improve poor attendance and reduce sick leave throughout the practice staff
  • save the practice financial costs and other resources by reducing sick leave
  • enable the GP to direct their time and resources on patient services.

Contact us. The service is free for practices where a partner is a BMA member.

James Nolan is an adviser on the BMA employer advisory service