ICSs can only be as healthy as the people who run them


Integrated Care Systems have a unique chance to transform public sector health and care delivery. Data-led insights around staff resource and wellbeing will be critical to their success, says Suzanne Marshall, Clinical Governance Officer at GoodShape

Here we are, on the doorstep of the traditional winter flu season[1], and our healthcare workers have yet to take a break from the exhaustion of Covid. Fast forward a few months and these same healthcare employees will have to adjust to a new model of work. From April 2022, Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) will bring together the NHS, local authorities and other partners to coordinate health and care services.

The vision of ICSs is admirable, but it comes with significant challenges. The healthcare and wider public sector are struggling with employee mental health and wellbeing, and the formation of ICSs presents a huge opportunity for its leaders to address current staffing challenges. But it won’t be an easy task.

Public sector fighting for its own health

The public sector has seen a dramatic rise in mental health problems since the start of the pandemic. In the NHS alone, working time lost to staff mental health issues has been virtually equal to that for confirmed cases of Covid. The estimated costs exceed £805 million for poor mental health and £827 million for Covid-positive absences. The government sector saw a similar trend, with poor mental health being the top reason its employees took time off work.[2]

These staff absences not only add to the pressure and cost of bringing in substitute workers and juggling shifts but also retaining staff. Across industries, 54% of workers will leave their job after two mental health-related absences. Last year, in the government sector, 15% of leavers – or 78,000 employees – took time off work for mental health problems before quitting. In 2018, the figure was just 11%, illustrating the mounting need for leaders to act.

Bills piling up

ICSs are set to give our health and social care system a much-anticipated rewiring to meet the needs of modern society. Through joined-up efforts that eliminate divisions between hospitals and GPs, physical and mental health, and NHS and council services, ICSs are being established to deliver seamless support to people who need it most.

Nevertheless, for the system to improve the wellbeing of communities, leaders must first address the wellbeing of its most important asset – its people.

Worryingly, since 2019, employees in Local Government and the NHS have taken more than 16.4 million days off for mental health-related reasons. And Local Government has lost more working time to mental health issues than the NHS, affecting 25% of all staff absences compared to 18% in the NHS (January 2019 to 31 August 2021).

The success of ICSs depends on delivering timely and localised services for communities. But Local Government and NHS Trusts are already facing challenges with staff mental health. These issues will not disappear with the implementation of ICSs unless leaders can put processes in place to address them.

A holistic, data-driven solution

In Local Government and much of the public sector, there remains a lack of real-time data regarding staffing and absence. Trying to resolve wellbeing problems without understanding the causes is like playing pin the tail on the donkey. Many leaders, unfortunately, have no idea when staff are off, why they are off or when they are likely to return, so they can only react passively, using a finger in the air approach.

For an organisation to function effectively, managers need to take a holistic, data-driven approach. With accurate, real-time data on employee wellbeing, sickness and absence, they can proactively monitor, pre-empt and respond to the evolving impact of poor mental health among staff. They can intervene in the crucial early stages when engagement and support can stop problems worsening and speed up recovery, alleviating the longer-term impact on individuals and the organisation as a whole.

ICSs give the public sector a never seen before opportunity to optimise health and social care. If constituent organisations grasp the chance to share data and resources regionally, the benefits for staff wellbeing and planning will be powerful. And GoodShape can help manage those insights, alert leaders to early warning signs, and provide accurate predictive analytics that enhance workforce planning. ICS managers will spend less time and money on administration, while better managing budgets, people and performance.

GoodShape supports the work of a number of public sector organisations, helping them improve operational efficiency while reducing agency costs. We hold the UK’s largest database of workplace absences covering more than 22 million days over 17 years and 750,000 employee records. At the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, the average duration of mental health-related absences dropped by 73% within 10 months of working together. At the Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust, GoodShape’s 24/7 service helped identify causes and patterns of absence, enabling managers to make speedy decisions on staff redeployment. Within a year, we helped OUH recoup 33,040 working days – or the equivalent of returning 144 full-time staff to work.

It’s not just NHS Trusts who are feeling the benefit. Our work with one of the country’s largest Police Forces significantly reduced absence durations in its call centre operations, putting 140 days of work back into the service after just six months. Watford Council also saw a 44% reduction in absence rates following better visibility and reporting of absence, improved procedures and management. This included a 23% increase in the number of return to work interviews completed, 14% higher than the national average for local authorities.

So the proof really is in the pudding. Invest in the mechanics to support your staff and organisations will reap the rewards with less absence, a healthier workforce and improved productivity.

If your people are in good shape, your organisation will be in good shape too

As we welcome the biggest change in Britain’s health and social care system in 50 years, ICSs have a unique opportunity to improve the wellbeing of millions of staff. After all, the public sector can only be as healthy as the people who run it.

It’s clear that organisations that have accurate, real-time data on the issues affecting staff wellbeing can make better decisions. GoodShape’s goal is to help leaders literally keep their people in good shape whilst ensuring they are in the right place, at the right time.


[1] Flu jab: Respiratory illnesses could claim 60,000 lives this

winter as NHS launches new vaccination campaign https://news.sky.com/story/respiratory-illnesses-could-claim-60-000-lives-this-winter-as-nhs-launches-new-flu-jab-campaign-12428260 

[2] “Integrated Care Systems: Shall we split the bill?”. GoodShape. 23 September 2021. https://blog.goodshape.com/news/integrated-care-systems-shall-we-split-the-bill

*Please note: This is a commercial profile

© 2019. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license

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Clinical Governance Officer
GoodShape Ltd
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