A survey by NHS Plus has shown increasing numbers of small business employers are turning to their free Health for Work Adviceline, introduced to help tackle the impact of sickness absence in the workplace – over a thousand businesses have called the Adviceline and the numbers are increasing every month.

Overall, sickness absence costs the UK around £100 billion each year. The Adviceline is aimed at small businesses, as they often lack the resources that larger organisations have at their disposal. However, the effect of just one employee being absent can be huge in terms of productivity, recruitment costs and staff morale.

Small business employers and managers are put in direct contact with occupational health professionals (Tel: 0800 0 77 88 44) for advice about how to help an employee with a physical or mental health problem, so minimising the impact on the business.

The survey reports that more than 97% of small business employers have found the service useful.

“We were very pleased to find out about this excellent service,” comments the manager of a Newcastle business in the survey. “We are a small company (14 employees) and just don’t have access to this sort of advice otherwise.”

A London-based business employer states: “I was able to speak to an advisor immediately. They were very knowledgeable and understood how to relate that knowledge to our company – a small charity. Having the summary report sent almost immediately was very helpful too.”

Dame Carol Black, whose report into working-age health identified a need to support small businesses and led to the introduction of the Adviceline, said, “I’m delighted that we now have a national occupational health advice service available to all small businesses in the country. More and more employers are taking advantage of the opportunity to speak to a NHS nurse about health issues affecting their staff. These managers understand the business benefits of addressing employee health problems when they arise, and recognise that the Health for Work Adviceline will provide the professional, confidential information they need.”

Employers and managers with concerns can call the free Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44. They can also receive help with occupational health monitoring, screening and surveillance, as well as lifestyle and well-being issues, absence management and rehabilitation advice, and will be referred to further support if appropriate.