Analysing Causes Work-Related Sickness Absence, transpixel.gif

General practitioners report twice as many work-related cases of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as cases of work-related mental ill-health, according to a new study.

However, the mental ill-health cases are responsible for more certified sickness absence.

Since June 2005, approximately 300 GPs with training in occupational medicine have been reporting cases of work-related ill-health to the Health and Occupation Reporting network (THOR-GP). The majority of cases they report are mental ill-health (29%) and MSDs (54%).

THOR-GP participants report work-related cases using an online web form. Details include patient demographics, diagnoses, industry, occupation and suspected agent/task/event. GPs also provide additional information on sickness absence.

In this study the sickness absence associated with mental ill-health cases reported in the first full calendar year of the scheme (2006) were coded and analysed.

It was found that GPs reported 1608 cases of work-related ill-health, of which over half (51%) were issued with sickness certification.

There were almost twice as many reports of MSDs (884) as cases of mental ill-health (469). Despite this, the cases of mental ill-health reported were responsible for a similar number (44%) of sick leave episodes as the MSD cases (47%).

A far greater proportion of the mental ill-health reports were issued with sickness certification (80%) compared to MSD cases (45%).

In the first year of THOR-GP data collection, 23,627 days of certified sickness absence were associated with the work-related ill-health reported by this sample of general practitioners. Mental ill-health cases had 14,093 days certified (60%), and MSDs 8,373 days certified (35%).

The reported cases of mental ill-health had 30 days certified per case, whereas MSDs had 9.4 days per case.

The researchers comment that when compared with MSDs, a higher proportion of mental ill-health cases were not only in need of time off work, but also needed time off for longer.

Royal College of Psychiatrists