Review of Irish Civil Service sickness absence referrals 2008–10

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Long-term sickness absence can have negative consequences for individuals and for their employers. Occupational health has an important role in assisting workplace rehabilitation in such cases.


To investigate long-term sickness absence referrals in the Irish Civil Service in terms of epidemiological profile, illness categories and eventual outcomes.


A retrospective review of consecutive new long-term sickness absence cases referred between January 2008 and April 2008 and followed up to July 2010, using review of electronic and paper medical records and personnel department data to establish case outcomes.


Three hundred and one cases were available for analysis. There were more long-term sickness absence cases among older employees, with female employees and clerical officer grades more likely to be referred. The principal diagnostic groups were mental health issues (30%), musculoskeletal disorders (13%) and cancer (11%). The eventual outcomes were the following: return to work (83%) and ill-health retirement (8%); 2% were still on sick leave and the remaining 7% had left civil service employment for other reasons at the end of the study period.


The final outcome in a large majority of case referrals was to resume work, with only a small proportion retiring on ill-health grounds. Mental health disorders, musculoskeletal disorders and cancers were the principal reasons for absence.

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