'Sick note' headache for Health Minister
Staff in the Department of Health are on course to take an average of nearly two weeks' sick leave this year.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show the department's staff took an average of 3.2 days' sick leave each from January to the end of April -- the most recent period for which figures are available.
The department's absenteeism rate is 40pc higher than the average of 5.98 working days missed annually by a worker in the private sector, according to the findings of an IBEC survey.
The patterns of sick leave in the department come in the wake of revelations in the Irish Independent about high levels of absenteeism in several hospitals, including an average daily rate of nearly 10pc in Ennis General Hospital in Co Clare.
The rate in the Health Service Executive (HSE) overall is 4.85pc, which compares with 2.58pc in the private sector. There are around 5,000 of the HSE's 104,851 workforce missing on sick leave every day.
The Department of Health is now concentrating on policy and legislation and is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the service, which is the responsibility of the HSE.
The average annual sick leave per employee in the civil service generally is in the region of 11 days.
A spokeswoman for the department said yesterday that the sick days included certified and uncertified absences.
"It should be borne in mind that all figures include a number of staff on long-term sick leave, which significantly inflates the average annual figure."
There were 434 staff employed at the department at the end of April but the number fell at the end of July to 371 after the transfer of civil servants to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Dr James Reilly said figures for hospital absenteeism published in the Irish Independent were "very disappointing and very worrying".
He said that management needed support in dealing with such issues.
"We're putting in place a new initiative, particularly in the West, around this. I'm not at liberty to say what it is just yet but in the next couple of weeks I'll be able to announce it.
"There have to be reasons behind it and they need to be addressed.
"There is cause and effect, so let's look at the causes and then we can deal with the effect," he said.