NHS staff offered Zumba to stay healthy

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NHS staff will be offered exercise classes in a bid to keep them fit and in work, NHS England's chief executive has announced.

Simon Stevens outlined his £5m solution for cutting the NHS bill for staff sickness, which currently stands at £2.4bn a year.

He said hospitals can help staff stay well by serving healthy food and running Zumba and yoga classes.

He added that GPs should be offered specialist support to avoid burnout.

Creating healthy and supportive workplaces was no longer a "nice to have, it's a must do", he told the NHS Innovation Expo conference in Manchester.

Organisations will be asked to provide staff access to physiotherapy, smoking cessation and weight management services, as well as sports or exercise classes.

And they should offer health checks for mental health and musculoskeletal problems - the two biggest causes of sickness absence across the NHS.

media captionChief executive Simon Stevens: "The NHS needs to look after its own."

Mr Stevens said: "NHS staff have some of the most critical but demanding jobs in the country.

"When it comes to supporting the health of our own workforce, frankly the NHS needs to put its own house in order."

He said he knew of one hospital in the West Midlands that has a place selling chips every 200 yards.

He did not disclose the hospital in question but said that the amount of junk food in hospitals had got out of control.

Analysis: How do NHS staff absence rates compare?

Nick Triggle, health correspondent

NHS staff sickness rates are actually falling, according to data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

Last year 4.25% of working days were lost - down from 4.4% in 2009-10.

The highest rates were seen among ambulance staff, nurses and healthcare assistants.

But despite this improvement health staff are nearly twice as likely to be off sick as people working in the private sector.

That may seem a lot, but experts warn direct comparisons are difficult because NHS staff work in an environment that means they are more likely to be exposed to risk factors such as infectious diseases, traumatic experiences and assault.

Christina McAnea, from Unison, said: "The health and wellbeing of NHS staff at work has a direct impact on patients, and this initiative rightly starts recognising that.

"Addressing physical and mental health issues is important and a step in the right direction as it will help tackle some of the major causes of stress at work.

"NHS staff experience some of the highest levels of stress and violence in the country, and this can no longer be tolerated.

"Health unions will be working with employers and NHS England on these issues."

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