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1.  Sickness absence in gender-equal companies A register study at organizational level 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:548.
The differences in sickness absence between men and women in Sweden have attracted a great deal of interest nationally in the media and among policymakers over a long period. The fact that women have much higher levels of sickness absence has been explained in various ways. These explanations are contextual and one of the theories points to the lack of gender equality as an explanation. In this study, we evaluate the impact of gender equality on health at organizational level. Gender equality is measured by an index ranking companies at organizational level; health is measured as days on sickness benefit.
Gender equality was measured using the Organizational Gender Gap Index or OGGI, which is constructed on the basis of six variables accessible in Swedish official registers. Each variable corresponds to a key word illustrating the interim objectives of the "National Plan for Gender Equality", implemented by the Swedish Parliament in 2006. Health is measured by a variable, days on sickness benefit, also accessible in the same registers.
We found significant associations between company gender equality and days on sickness benefit. In gender-equal companies, the risk for days on sickness benefit was 1.7 (95% CI 1.6-1.8) higher than in gender-unequal companies. The differences were greater for men than for women: OR 1.8 (95% CI 1.7-2.0) compared to OR 1.4 (95% CI 1.3-1.5).
Even though employees at gender-equal companies had more days on sickness benefit, the differences between men and women in this measure were smaller in gender-equal companies. Gender equality appears to alter health patterns, converging the differences between men and women.
PMCID: PMC3155915  PMID: 21745375
2.  Pain acceptance and personal control in pain relief in two maternity care models: a cross-national comparison of Belgium and the Netherlands 
A cross-national comparison of Belgian and Dutch childbearing women allows us to gain insight into the relative importance of pain acceptance and personal control in pain relief in 2 maternity care models. Although Belgium and the Netherlands are neighbouring countries sharing the same language, political system and geography, they are characterised by a different organisation of health care, particularly in maternity care. In Belgium the medical risks of childbirth are emphasised but neutralised by a strong belief in the merits of the medical model. Labour pain is perceived as a needless inconvenience easily resolved by means of pain medication. In the Netherlands the midwifery model of care defines childbirth as a normal physiological process and family event. Labour pain is perceived as an ally in the birth process.
Women were invited to participate in the study by independent midwives and obstetricians during antenatal visits in 2004-2005. Two questionnaires were filled out by 611 women, one at 30 weeks of pregnancy and one within the first 2 weeks after childbirth either at home or in a hospital. However, only women having a hospital birth without obstetric intervention (N = 327) were included in this analysis. A logistic regression analysis has been performed.
Labour pain acceptance and personal control in pain relief render pain medication use during labour less likely, especially if they occur together. Apart from this general result, we also find large country differences. Dutch women with a normal hospital birth are six times less likely to use pain medication during labour, compared to their Belgian counterparts. This country difference cannot be explained by labour pain acceptance, since - in contrast to our working hypothesis - Dutch and Belgian women giving birth in a hospital setting are characterised by a similar labour pain acceptance. Our findings suggest that personal control in pain relief can partially explain the country differences in coping with labour pain. For Dutch women we find that the use of pain medication is lowest if women experience control over the reception of pain medication and have a positive attitude towards labour pain. In Belgium however, not personal control over the use of pain relief predicts the use of pain medication, but negative attitudes towards labour.
Apart from individual level determinants, such as length of labour or pain acceptance, our findings suggest that the maternity care context is of major importance in the study of the management of labour pain. The pain medication use in Belgian hospital maternity care is high and is very sensitive to negative attitudes towards labour pain. In the Netherlands, on the contrary, pain medication use is already low. This can partially be explained by a low degree of personal control in pain relief, especially when co-occurring with positive pain attitudes.
PMCID: PMC2944275  PMID: 20831798
3.  Gender and age differences in the recurrence of sickness absence due to common mental disorders: a longitudinal study 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:426.
Common mental disorders (CMDs) are an important cause of sickness absence and long-term work disability. Although CMDs are known to have high recurrence rates, little is known about the recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs. The aim of this study was to investigate the recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs, including distress, adjustment disorders, depressive disorders and anxiety disorders, according to age, in male and female employees in the Netherlands.
Data on sickness absence episodes due to CMDs were obtained for 137,172 employees working in the Dutch Post and Telecommunication companies between 2001 and 2007. The incidence density (ID) and recurrence density (RD) of sickness absence due to CMDs was calculated per 1000 person-years in men and women in the age-groups of < 35 years, 35-44 years, 45-54 years, and ≥ 55 years.
The ID of one episode of CMDs sickness absence was 25.0 per 1000 person-years, and the RD was 76.7 per 1000 person-years. Sickness absence due to psychiatric disorders (anxiety and depression) does not have a higher recurrence density of sickness absence due to any CMDs as compared to stress-related disorders (distress and adjustment disorders): 81.6 versus 76.0 per 1000 person-years. The ID of sickness absence due to CMDs was higher in women than in men, but the RD was similar. Recurrences were more frequent in women < 35 years and in women between 35 and 44 years of age. We observed no differences between age groups in men. Recurrences among employees with recurrent episodes occurred within 3 years in 90% of cases and the median time-to-onset of recurrence was 11 (10-13) months in men and 10 (9-12) months in women.
Employees who have been absent from work due to CMDs are at increased risk of recurrent sickness absence due to CMDs and should be monitored after they return to work. The RD was similar in men and in women. In women < 45 years the RD was higher than in women ≥ 45 years. In men no age differences were observed.
PMCID: PMC2914781  PMID: 20646271
4.  Health problems and psychosocial work environment as predictors of long term sickness absence in employees who visited the occupational physician and/or general practitioner in relation to work: a prospective study 
Aims: To determine whether psychosocial work environment and indicators of health problems are prospectively related to incident long term sickness absence in employees who visited the occupational physician (OP) and/or general practitioner (GP) in relation to work.
Methods: The baseline measurement (May 1998) of the Maastricht Cohort Study, a prospective cohort study among 45 companies and organisations, was used to select employees at work who indicated having visited the OP and/or GP in relation to work. Self report questionnaires were used to measure indicators of health problems (presence of at least one long term disease, likeliness of having a mental illness, fatigue) and psychosocial work environment (job demands, decision latitude, social support, job satisfaction) as predictors of subsequent sickness absence. Sickness absence data regarding total numbers of sickness absence days were obtained from the companies and occupational health services during an 18 month period (between 1 July 1998 and 31 December 1999). Complete data were available from 1271 employees.
Results: After adjustment for demographics and the other predictors, presence of at least one long term disease (OR 2.36; 95% CI 1.29 to 4.29) and lower level of decision latitude (OR 1.69; 95% CI 1.22 to 2.38) were the strongest predictors for sickness absence of at least one month. A higher likelihood of having a mental illness, a higher level of fatigue, a lower level of social support at work, and low job satisfaction were also significant predictors for long term sickness absence, but their effect was less strong.
Conclusion: In detecting employees at work but at risk for long term sickness absence, OPs and GPs should take into account not only influence of the psychosocial work environment in general and level of decision latitude in particular, but also influence of indicators of health problems, especially in the form of long term diseases.
PMCID: PMC1740517  PMID: 12660378
5.  The dimensional structure of the functional abilities in cases of long-term sickness absence 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:99.
The health problems that working people suffer can affect their functional abilities and, consequently, can cause a mismatch between those abilities and the demands of the work, leading to sickness absence. A lasting decrease in functional abilities can lead to long-term sickness absence and work disability, with negative consequences for both the worker and the larger society. The objective of this study was to identify common disability characteristics among large groups of long-term sick-listed and disabled employees.
As part of the disability benefit entitlement procedure in the Netherlands, an insurance physician assesses the functional abilities of the claimant in a standardised form, known as the List of Functional Abilities (LFA), which consists of six sections containing a total of 106 items. For the purposes of this study, we compiled data from 50,931 assessments. These data were used in an exploratory factor analyses, and the results were then used to construct scales. The stability of dimensional structure of the LFA and of the internal consistency of the scales was studied using data from 80,968 assessments carried out earlier, under a slightly different legislation.
Three separate factor analyses carried out on the functional abilities of five sections of the LFA resulted in 14 scale variables, and one extra scale variable was based on the items from the sixth section. The resulting scale variables showed Cronbach's Alphas ranging from 0.59 to 0.97, with the exception of one of 0.54. The dimensional structure of the LFA in the verification population differed in some aspects. The Cronbach's Alphas of the verification population ranged from 0.58 to 0.97, again with the exception of the same scale: Alpha = 0.49.
The differences between the dimensional structures of the primary data and the earlier data we found in this study restrict the possibilities to generalise the results. The scales we constructed can be utilised to produce a compact description of the functional abilities of groups of claimants in the Netherlands. Moreover, the matching work demands can be used to identify jobs low on those demands as being the most accessible for the specific type of disabled employees, particularly severely disabled individuals.
PMCID: PMC3046913  PMID: 21320333
6.  Validation of sick leave measures: self-reported sick leave and sickness benefit data from a Danish national register compared to multiple workplace-registered sick leave spells in a Danish municipality 
BMC Public Health  2012;12:661.
Previous validation studies of sick leave measures have focused on self-reports. Register-based sick leave data are considered to be valid; however methodological problems may be associated with such data. A Danish national register on sickness benefit (DREAM) has been widely used in sick leave research. On the basis of sick leave records from 3,554 and 2,311 eldercare workers in 14 different workplaces, the aim of this study was to: 1) validate registered sickness benefit data from DREAM against workplace-registered sick leave spells of at least 15 days; 2) validate self-reported sick leave days during one year against workplace-registered sick leave.
Agreement between workplace-registered sick leave and DREAM-registered sickness benefit was reported as sensitivities, specificities and positive predictive values. A receiver-operating characteristic curve and a Bland-Altman plot were used to study the concordance with sick leave duration of the first spell. By means of an analysis of agreement between self-reported and workplace-registered sick leave sensitivity and specificity was calculated. Ninety-five percent confidence intervals (95% CI) were used.
The probability that registered DREAM data on sickness benefit agrees with workplace-registered sick leave of at least 15 days was 96.7% (95% CI: 95.6-97.6). Specificity was close to 100% (95% CI: 98.3-100). The registered DREAM data on sickness benefit overestimated the duration of sick leave spells by an average of 1.4 (SD: 3.9) weeks. Separate analysis on pregnancy-related sick leave revealed a maximum sensitivity of 20% (95% CI: 4.3-48.1).
The sensitivity of self-reporting at least one or at least 56 sick leave day/s was 94.5 (95% CI: 93.4 – 95.5) % and 58.5 (95% CI: 51.1 – 65.6) % respectively. The corresponding specificities were 85.3 (95% CI: 81.4 – 88.6) % and 98.9 (95% CI: 98.3 – 99.3) %.
The DREAM register offered valid measures of sick leave spells of at least 15 days among eldercare employees. Pregnancy-related sick leave should be excluded in studies planning to use DREAM data on sickness benefit. Self-reported sick leave became more imprecise when number of absence days increased, but the sensitivity and specificity were acceptable for lengths not exceeding one week.
PMCID: PMC3511193  PMID: 22894644
Agreement; Eldercare sector; Public transfer payment; Register data; Self-report; Sensitivity; Sick leave; Specificity; Validation; Workplace record
7.  Disability, sickness, and unemployment benefits among long-term sickness absentees five years before, during, and after a multidisciplinary medical assessment 
The aim was to describe how a multidisciplinary medical assessment changed the distribution of long-term sickness absentees between three different forms of social security support during a period of eleven years.
The study group (n = 1002) consisted of persons on long-term sickness absence who were referred to a multidisciplinary medical assessment by the Social Insurance Office in Stockholm, Sweden between 1998 and 2007. Register data from the years 1993–2008 were linked to the study group. A calculation was provided for the number of days per person and year on unemployment benefits, sickness benefits, and disability pension, five years before, during, and five years after the assessment. Also, differences in the average number of days per person and year were calculated with one-way analysis of variance.
The number of days on sickness benefits increased up to the time of multidisciplinary medical assessment, from 69 to 218 days on average. After the assessment there was a decrease in the average number of days on sickness benefits, from 218 to 16 days. Before the assessment the number of days on disability pension was 21, but this increased after the assessment from 104 days to an average of 272 days five years after the assessment. There were age differences regarding number of compensated days, and these were particularly pronounced for disability days after the assessment. Further, there were significant differences between types of diagnosis in relation to average days on disability pension after the assessment.
The study shows that after a multidisciplinary medical assessment there is a rapid increase in disability pension and a dramatic decrease in sickness benefits. The results indicate that for a large number of persons, a Social Insurance Office referral to an assessment does not improve their chances of returning to work, but rather seems to justify disability pension.
PMCID: PMC3065563  PMID: 21468245
multidisciplinary medical assessment; sickness absence; disability pension; sick leave; diagnosis; Sweden
8.  Medically certified sickness absence with insurance benefits in women with and without children 
Background: Sickness absence in Sweden is high, particularly in young women and the reasons are unclear. Many Swedish women combine parenthood and work and are facing demands that may contribute to impaired health and well-being. We compared mothers and women without children under different conditions, assuming increased sickness absence in mothers, due to time-based stress and psychological strain. Methods: All women born in 1960–79 (1.2 million) were followed from 1993 to 2003. Information on children in the home for each year was related to medically certified sickness absence with insurance benefits the year after. We used age and time-stratified proportional hazard regression models accounting for the individual's changes on study variables over time. Data were retrieved from national administrative registers. Results: Sickness absence was higher in mothers than in women without children, the relative risks decreased by age, with no effect after the age of 35 years. An effect appeared in lonely women irrespective of age, while in cohabiting women only for the ages 20–25 years. Mothers showed increased sickness absence in all subgroups of country of birth, education, income, sector of employment and place of residence. The relation between number of children and sickness absence was nonlinear, with the highest relative risks for mothers of one child. The upward trend of sickness absence at the end of 1990s was steeper for mothers compared to women without children. Conclusion: Despite the well-developed social security system and child care services in Sweden, parenthood predicts increased sickness absence, particularly in young and in lone women.
PMCID: PMC3265750  PMID: 21450840
9.  Occupational stress and incidence of sick leave in the Belgian workforce: the Belstress study 
Context: Sick leave is a major problem in public health. The Karasek demands/control/social support/strain (JDCS) model has been largely used to predict a wide range of health outcomes and to a lesser extent sickness absence.
Study objective: The aim of the study was to test the predictive power of the JDCS model in relation with one year incidence of sick leave in a large cohort of workers.
Design and setting: Cohort study conducted between 1994 and 1998 in 25 companies across Belgium.
Participants: A total of 20 463 workers aged 35 to 59 years were followed up for sick leave during one year after the baseline survey.
Outcomes: The outcomes were a high sick leave incidence, short spells (⩾7 days), long spells (⩾28 days), and repetitive spells of sickness absence (⩾3 spells/year).
Main results: Independently from baseline confounding variables, a significant association between high strained jobs with low social support and repetitive spells of sickness absence was observed in both sexes with odds ratios of 1.32 (99% CI, 1.04 to 1.68) in men and 1.61 (99% CI, 1.13 to 2.33) in women. In men, high strained jobs with low social support was also significantly associated with high sick leave incidence, and short spells of sick leave with odds ratios of 1.38 (99% CI, 1.16 to 1.64) and 1.22 (99% CI, 1.05 to 1.44) respectively.
Conclusions: Perceived high strain at work especially combined with low social support is predictive of sick leave in both sexes of a large cohort of the Belgian workforce.
PMCID: PMC1732779  PMID: 15143121
10.  Analysis of sickness absence among employees of four NHS trusts 
OBJECTIVES: To determine the value of using routinely collected sickness absence data as part of a health needs assessment of healthcare workers. METHOD: Sickness absence records of almost 12900 NHS staff for one calendar year were analysed. Three measures of absence, the absence rate, the absence frequency rate, and the mean duration of absence, were assessed for the population and comparisons made between men and women, full and part time and different occupational groups of staff. Also, the main causes of sickness absence were found. RESULTS: Almost 60% of the study population had no spells of sickness absence in the year of study and almost 20% had only one spell of sickness absence. Female staff were more likely to have experienced sickness absence than male staff. Although absence due to conditions related to pregnancy were included in the analysis, the incidence of these was not sufficient to account for the higher rates of absence among female staff. In general, full time staff had greater rates of sickness absence than part time staff. 71% of all absences were of < 1 week duration. The main known causes of sickness absence were respiratory disorders, digestive disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders. CONCLUSIONS: The transition from units managed directly from the health board to trusts with individual responsibility for personnel issues at the time of data collection resulted in variations in the quality of data available for analysis. This together with the use of "dump" codes has influenced the quality of the analysis. However, such data should be available for analysis to tailor occupational health care to the needs of the population.
PMCID: PMC1757661  PMID: 10658551
11.  Associations between partial sickness benefit and disability pensions: initial findings of a Finnish nationwide register study 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:361.
Timely return to work after longterm sickness absence and the increased use of flexible work arrangements together with partial health-related benefits are tools intended to increase participation in work life. Although partial sickness benefit and partial disability pension are used in many countries, prospective studies on their use are largely lacking. Partial sickness benefit was introduced in Finland in 2007. This register study aimed to investigate the use of health-related benefits by subjects with prolonged sickness absence, initially on either partial or full sick leave.
Representative population data (13 375 men and 16 052 women either on partial or full sick leave in 2007) were drawn from national registers and followed over an average of 18 months. The registers provided information on the study outcomes: diagnoses and days of payment for compensated sick leaves, and the occurrence of disability pension. Survival analysis and multinomial regression were carried out using sociodemographic variables and prior sickness absence as covariates.
Approximately 60% of subjects on partial sick leave and 30% of those on full sick leave had at least one recurrent sick leave over the follow up. A larger proportion of those on partial sick leave (16%) compared to those on full sick leave (1%) had their first recurrent sick leave during the first month of follow up. The adjusted risks of the first recurrent sick leave were 1.8 and 1.7 for men and women, respectively, when subjects on partial sick leave were compared with those on full sick leave. There was no increased risk when those with their first recurrent sick leave in the first month were excluded from the analyses. The risks of a full disability pension were smaller and risks of a partial disability pension approximately two-fold among men and women initially on partial sick leave, compared to subjects on full sick leave.
This is the first follow up study of the newly adopted partial sickness benefit in Finland. The results show that compared to full sick leave, partial sick leave - when not followed by lasting return to work - is more typically followed by partial disability pension and less frequently by full disability pension. It is anticipated that the use of partial benefits in connection with part-time participation in work life will have favourable effects on future disability pension rates in Finland.
PMCID: PMC2912806  PMID: 20573207
12.  Recurrence of sickness absence due to common mental disorders 
Common mental disorders (CMDs) are an important cause of work disability. Although CMDs are known to have high recurrence rates, little is known about the recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs. This study examines the recurrence risk of sickness absence due to CMDs.
A cohort of 9,904 employees with a sickness absence due to CMDs, working in the Dutch Post or Telecommunication company, was studied over a 7-year period. Recurrence was defined as the start of at least one new episode of sickness absence with CMDs after complete return to work for at least 28 days. The recurrence density (RD) of sickness absence with CMDs was calculated per 1,000 person-years.
Of the 9,904 employees with a first absence due to CMDs 1,925 (19%) had a recurrence, 90% of recurrences occurred within 3 years. The RD of sickness absence due to CMDs was 84.5 employees per 1,000 person-years (95% CI = 80.7–88.3). The RD of sickness absence due to CMDs was similar in women and in men. In men, depressive symptoms were related to higher recurrence of sickness absence due to CMDs than distress symptoms and adjustment disorders. In women, no difference by diagnostic category was found.
Employees with a previous episode of sickness absence with CMDs are at increased risk of recurrent sickness absence with CMDs. Relapse prevention consultations are recommended for a period of 3 years after return to work.
PMCID: PMC3020308  PMID: 20449605
Recurrent sickness absence; Common mental disorders; Stress-related symptoms; Depressive symptoms; Anxiety symptoms
13.  Burnout as a predictor of self‐reported sickness absence among human service workers: prospective findings from three year follow up of the PUMA study 
To investigate whether burnout predicts sickness absence days and sickness absence spells in human service workers.
A total of 824 participants from an ongoing prospective study in different human service sector organisations were eligible for the three year follow up analysis. Burnout was measured with the work related burnout scale of the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory. Sickness absence was measured with self‐reported number of days and spells during the last 12 months before the baseline and the follow up survey. A Poisson regression model with a scale parameter was used to account for over dispersion. A linear regression model was used for analysing changes in burnout and absence between baseline and follow up.
Burnout was prospectively associated with both sickness absence days and sickness absence spells per year. Differences in sickness absence days varied from a mean of 5.4 days per year in the lowest quartile of the work related burnout scale to a mean of 13.6 in the highest quartile. An increase of one standard deviation on the work related burnout scale predicted an increase of 21% in sickness absence days per year (rate ratio 1.21, 95% CI 1.11 to 1.32) after adjusting for gender, age, organisation, socioeconomic status, lifestyle factors, family status, having children under 7 years of age, and prevalence of diseases. Regarding sickness absence spells, an increase of one standard deviation on the work related burnout scale predicted an increase of 9% per year (rate ratio 1.09, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.17). Changes in burnout level from baseline to follow up were positively associated with changes in sickness absence days (estimate 1.94 days/year, SE 0.63) and sickness absence spell (estimate 0.34 spells/year, SE 0.08).
The findings indicate that burnout predicts sickness absence. Reducing burnout is likely to reduce sickness absence.
PMCID: PMC2078067  PMID: 16421387
professional burnout; sick leave; prospective study
14.  Does Postponement of First Pregnancy Increase Gender Differences in Sickness Absence? A Register Based Analysis of Norwegian Employees in 1993–2007 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e93006.
From 1970–2012, the average age at first delivery increased from 23.2–28.5 in Norway. Postponement of first pregnancy increases risks of medical complications both during and after pregnancy. Sickness absence during pregnancy has over the last two decades increased considerably more than in non-pregnant women. The aim of this paper is twofold: Firstly to investigate if postponement of pregnancy is related to increased sickness absence and thus contributing to the increased gender difference in sickness absence; and secondly, to estimate how much of the increased gender difference in sickness absence that can be accounted for by increased sickness absence amongst pregnant women.
We employed registry-data to analyse sickness absence among all Norwegian employees with income equivalent to full-time work in the period 1993–2007.
After control for age, education, and income, pregnant women's sickness absence (age 20–44) increased on average 0.94 percentage points each year, compared to 0.29 in non-pregnant women and 0.14 in men. In pregnant women aged 20–24, sickness absence during pregnancy increased by 0.96 percent points per calendar year, compared to 0.60 in age-group 30–34. Sickness absence during pregnancy accounted for 25% of the increased gender gap in sickness absence, accounting for changes in education, income and age.
Postponement of first pregnancy does not explain the increase in pregnant women's sickness absence during the period 1993–2007 as both the highest level and increase in sickness absence is seen in the younger women. Reasons are poorly understood, but still important as it accounts for 25% of the increased gender gap in sickness absence.
PMCID: PMC3965515  PMID: 24667483
15.  Socioeconomic status and duration and pattern of sickness absence. A 1-year follow-up study of 2331 hospital employees 
BMC Public Health  2010;10:643.
Sickness absence increases with lower socioeconomic status. However, it is not well known how this relation depends on specific aspects of sickness absence or the degree to which socioeconomic differences in sickness absence may be explained by other factors.
The purpose of the study was to examine differences in sickness absence among occupational groups in a large general hospital; how they depend on combinations of frequency and duration of sickness absence spells; and if they could be explained by self-reported general health, personal factors and work factors.
The design is a 1-year prospective cohort study of 2331 hospital employees. Baseline information include job title, work unit, perceived general health, work factors and personal factors recorded from hospital administrative files or by questionnaire (response rate 84%). Sickness absence during follow-up was divided into short (1-3 days), medium (4-14 days) and long (>14 days) spells, and into no absence, "normal" absence (1-3 absences of certain durations) and "abnormal" absence (any other absence than "normal"). Socioeconomic status was assessed by job titles grouped in six occupational groups by level of education (from doctors to cleaners/porters). Effects of occupational group on sickness absence were adjusted for significant effects of age, gender, general health, personal factors and work factors. We used Poisson or logistic regression analysis to estimate the effects of model covariates (rate ratios (RR) or odds ratios (OR)) and their 95% confidence intervals (CI).
With a few exceptions sickness absence increased with decreasing socioeconomic status. However, the social gradient was quite different for different types of sickness absence. The gradient was strong for medium spells and "abnormal" absence, and weak for all spells, short spells, long spells and "normal" absence. For cleaners compared to doctors the adjusted risk estimates increased 4.2 (95% CI 2.8-6.2) and 7.4 (95% CI 3.3-16) times for medium spells and "abnormal" absence, respectively, while the similar changes varied from 0.79 to 2.8 for the other absence outcomes. General health explained some of the social gradient. Work factors and personal factors did not.
The social gradient in sickness absence was different for absences of different duration and patterns. It was strongest for absences of medium length and "abnormal" absence. The social gradient was not explained by other factors.
PMCID: PMC3091566  PMID: 20973979
16.  Does a referral from home to hospital affect satisfaction with childbirth? A cross-national comparison 
The Belgian and Dutch societies present many similarities but differ with regard to the organisation of maternity care. The Dutch way of giving birth is well known for its high percentage of home births and its low medical intervention rate. In contrast, home births in Belgium are uncommon and the medical model is taken for granted. Dutch and Belgian maternity care systems are compared with regard to the influence of being referred to specialist care during pregnancy or intrapartum while planning for a home birth. We expect that a referral will result in lower satisfaction with childbirth, especially in Belgium.
Two questionnaires were filled out by 605 women, one at 30 weeks of pregnancy and one within the first two weeks after childbirth, either at home or in a hospital. Of these, 563 questionnaires were usable for analysis. Women were invited to participate in the study by independent midwives and obstetricians during antenatal visits in 2004–2005. Satisfaction with childbirth was measured by the Mackey Satisfaction with Childbirth Rating Scale, which takes into account the multidimensional nature of the concept.
Belgian women are more satisfied than Dutch women and home births are more satisfying than hospital births. Women who are referred to the hospital while planning for a home birth are less satisfied than women who planned to give birth in hospital and did. A referral has a greater negative impact on satisfaction for Dutch women.
There is no reason to believe Dutch women receive hospital care of lesser quality than Belgian women in case of a referral. Belgian and Dutch attach different meaning to being referred, resulting in a different evaluation of childbirth. In the Dutch maternity care system home births lead to higher satisfaction, but once a referral to the hospital is necessary satisfaction drops and ends up lower than satisfaction with hospital births that were planned in advance. We need to understand more about referral processes and how women experience them.
PMCID: PMC1939703  PMID: 17626631
17.  Organisational downsizing, sickness absence, and mortality: 10-town prospective cohort study 
BMJ : British Medical Journal  2004;328(7439):555.
Objective To examine whether downsizing, the reduction of personnel in organisations, is a predictor of increased sickness absence and mortality among employees.
Design Prospective cohort study over 7.5 years of employees grouped into categories on the basis of reductions of personnel in their occupation and workplace: no downsizing (< 8% reduction), minor downsizing (8-18%), and major downsizing (> 18%).
Setting Four towns in Finland.
Participants 5909 male and 16 521 female municipal employees, aged 19-62 years, who kept their jobs.
Main outcome measures Annual sickness absence rate based on employers' records before and after downsizing by employment contract; all cause and cause specific mortality obtained from the national mortality register.
Results Major downsizing was associated with an increase in sickness absence (P for trend < 0.001) in permanent employees but not in temporary employees. The extent of downsizing was also associated with cardiovascular deaths (P for trend < 0.01) but not with deaths from other causes. Cardiovascular mortality was 2.0 (95% confidence interval 1.0 to 3.9) times higher after major downsizing than after no downsizing. Splitting the follow up period into two halves showed a 5.1 (1.4 to 19.3) times increase in cardiovascular mortality for major downsizing during the first four years after downsizing. The corresponding hazard ratio was 1.4 (0.6 to 3.1) during the second half of follow up.
Conclusion Organisational downsizing may increase sickness absence and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease in employees who keep their jobs.
PMCID: PMC381046  PMID: 14980982
18.  End-of-Life Decisions: A Cross-National Study of Treatment Preference Discussions and Surrogate Decision-Maker Appointments 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e57965.
Making treatment decisions in anticipation of possible future incapacity is an important part of patient participation in end-of-life decision-making. This study estimates and compares the prevalence of GP-patient end-of-life treatment discussions and patients’ appointment of surrogate decision-makers in Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands and examines associated factors.
A cross-sectional, retrospective survey was conducted with representative GP networks in four countries. GPs recorded the health and care characteristics in the last three months of life of 4,396 patients who died non-suddenly. Prevalences were estimated and logistic regressions were used to examine between country differences and country-specific associated patient and care factors.
GP-patient discussion of treatment preferences occurred for 10%, 7%, 25% and 47% of Italian, Spanish, Belgian and of Dutch patients respectively. Furthermore, 6%, 5%, 16% and 29% of Italian, Spanish, Belgian and Dutch patients had a surrogate decision-maker. Despite some country-specific differences, previous GP-patient discussion of primary diagnosis, more frequent GP contact, GP provision of palliative care, the importance of palliative care as a treatment aim and place of death were positively associated with preference discussions or surrogate appointments. A diagnosis of dementia was negatively associated with preference discussions and surrogate appointments.
The study revealed a higher prevalence of treatment preference discussions and surrogate appointments in the two northern compared to the two southern European countries. Factors associated with preference discussions and surrogate appointments suggest that delaying diagnosis discussions impedes anticipatory planning, whereas early preference discussions, particularly for dementia patients, and the provision of palliative care encourage participation.
PMCID: PMC3589464  PMID: 23472122
19.  Effects of a weight-gain restriction programme for obese pregnant women on sickness absence and pregnancy benefits 
To evaluate the effect of a weight-gain restriction programme for obese pregnant women on sickness absence days and pregnancy benefit days during pregnancy and postpartum.
A prospective, controlled intervention study. The Swedish Social Security Agency's records were utilized to compile sickness absence and pregnancy benefit information.
Antenatal care clinics in the south-east of Sweden.
One hundred fifty-five obese pregnant women who participated in a weight restriction program with weekly structured motivational and behavioural talks combined with aqua-aerobics during pregnancy. A total of 193 obese pregnant women with no intervention served as controls.
Main outcome measures
Sickness absence benefits and pregnancy benefits expressed as a percentage.
On average women in the intervention group had 76.68 total full days of sickness absence benefit compared with 53.09days in the control group. Total full days of pregnancy benefits were 39.66% days and 41.41% for the intervention and control groups respectively. For the women who were on sick leave there were no differences between the groups in the amount of days taken.
Given the complexity of factors that have an influence on sickness absence leave, it is possible that programmes that do not address the influence of social aspects and attitudes towards sickness absence have limited effect.
PMCID: PMC3656393  PMID: 23301596
General practice; obesity; pregnancy; pregnancy benefit; sickness absence; Sweden; weight restriction
20.  Psychosocial factors at work and sickness absence in the Gazel cohort: a prospective study 
OBJECTIVE: To test whether psychosocial factors at work are predictors of rates of sickness absence. METHODS: The study population consisted of middle aged men and women employed by the French national electricity and gas company (EDF-GDF) in various occupations and followed up since 1989 by annual self administered questionnaires and independent data obtained from the medical and personnel departments of EDF-GDF. The 1995 questionnaire provided information about three psychosocial work factors: psychological demands, decision latitude, and social support at work. Sick-ness absence data were provided by the company's social security department. The occurrence of spells and days of absence in the 12 months after completion of the 1995 questionnaire was studied. Potential confounding variables were age, smoking, alcohol, and marital status, assessed in the 1995 questionnaire, and educational level and occupation, assessed from data provided by the personnel department. This study was restricted to the 12,555 subjects of the initial cohort who were still working and answered the self administered questionnaire in 1995. RESULTS: Low levels of decision latitude were associated with more frequent and longer sickness absences among men and women. Low levels of social support at work increased the numbers of spells and days of absence among men only. These associations weakened after adjustment for potential confounding factors, but remained significant. CONCLUSION: The study indicates that psychosocial factors at work, especially decision latitude, are predictive of sickness absence.
PMCID: PMC1757529  PMID: 9924449
21.  Determining the “Health Benefit Basket” of the Statutory Health Insurance scheme in Germany 
The issue of defining health benefit catalogues has recently gained new importance in Germany as a result of the creation of the new Institute for Quality and Efficiency. The Institute was designed to support the Federal Joint Committee conducting effectiveness studies for benefit coverage decisions. The Committee and the contractual partners (sickness funds and providers) define the benefit catalogues for the Statutory Health Insurance in the framework of Social Code Book V, Germany’s most relevant health care scheme. Unlike other countries, the German federal government limits its regulatory role to defining procedures that determine the scope of Statutory Health Insurance services. The explicitness of the benefit catalogues varies greatly between different sectors. While benefits in outpatient care are rather explicitly defined, benefit definitions for inpatient care are vague. It is argued that the establishment of the new Institute and the development of the DRG system are initial steps towards a more effective and explicit benefit catalogue.
PMCID: PMC1388082  PMID: 16270210
Health benefit plans; Germany; Health services; Health priorities; National health programs
22.  "A powerful intervention: general practitioners'; use of sickness certification in depression" 
BMC Family Practice  2012;13:82.
Depression is frequently cited as the reason for sickness absence, and it is estimated that sickness certificates are issued in one third of consultations for depression. Previous research has considered GP views of sickness certification but not specifically in relation to depression.
This study aimed to explore GPs views of sickness certification in relation to depression.
A purposive sample of GP practices across Scotland was selected to reflect variations in levels of incapacity claimants and antidepressant prescribing. Qualitative interviews were carried out between 2008 and 2009.
A total of 30 GPs were interviewed. A number of common themes emerged including the perceived importance of GP advocacy on behalf of their patients, the tensions between stakeholders involved in the sickness certification system, the need to respond flexibly to patients who present with depression and the therapeutic nature of time away from work as well as the benefits of work. GPs reported that most patients with depression returned to work after a short period of absence and that it was often difficult to predict which patients would struggle to return to work.
GPs reported that dealing with sickness certification and depression presents distinct challenges. Sickness certificates are often viewed as powerful interventions, the effectiveness of time away from work for those with depression should be subject to robust enquiry.
PMCID: PMC3441202  PMID: 22877237
Depression; Mood disorder; Primary care; Occupational; Environmental medicine; Doctor-patient relationship; Mental health
23.  NICE guidance on long-term sickness and incapacity 
The British Journal of General Practice  2011;61(584):e118-e124.
Long-term sickness absence and incapacity benefits (disability pension) rates have increased across industrialised countries. Effective measures are needed to support return to work. The recommendations of this guidance were informed by the most appropriate available evidence of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. Public health evidence was provided by research using a variety of study designs that attempted to determine the outcome of a particular intervention by evaluating status before and after the intervention had been effected, and was not limited to randomised control trials. Where the evidence base was depleted or underdeveloped, expert witnesses were called to give their opinion on the best available evidence and emerging interventions. The process enabled challenge and contestability from stakeholder groups at different points as the guidance was developed. Forty-five heterogeneous studies were included in the review of interventions to reduce long-term sickness absence and transitions from short-term to long-term absence (mainly covering the former and also mainly examining musculoskeletal conditions). The analysis of evidence was restricted to descriptive synthesis. Three general themes emerged from an analysis of the studies that were more likely to report positive results: early interventions; multidisciplinary approaches; and interventions with a workplace component. Two further reviews were undertaken, one on interventions to reduce the re-occurrence of sickness absence, which identified seven studies on lower back pain, and concluded that early intervention and direct workplace input are important factors. The final evidence review focused on six studies of interventions for those in receipt of incapacity benefit. The evidence was that work-focused interviews coupled with access to tailored support are effective and cost-effective interventions. Practitioners should consider the impact of interventions and management options on work ability for patients of working age. Work ability should be considered a key outcome for future intervention studies.
PMCID: PMC3047344  PMID: 21375894
evidence-based medicine; guideline; sick leave; sick leave, cost; work capacity evaluation
24.  Physical, psychosocial, and organisational factors relative to sickness absence: a study based on Sweden Post 
OBJECTIVE—To analyse incidence of sickness for women and men relative to potential aetiological factors at work—physical, psychosocial, and organisational.
METHODS—The study group comprised 1557 female and 1913 male employees of Sweden Post. Sickness absence was measured by incidence of sickness (sick leave events and person-days at risk). Information on explanatory factors was obtained by a postal questionnaire, and incidence of sickness was based on administrative files of the company.
RESULTS—Complaints about heavy lifting and monotonous movements were associated with increased risk of high incidence of sickness among both women and men. For heavy lifting, an odds ratio (OR) of 1.70 (95% confidence interval (95% CI) 1.22 to 2.39) among women, and OR 1.70 (1.20 to 2.41) among men was found. For monotonous movements the risk estimates were OR 1.42 (1.03 to 1.97) and OR 1.45 (1.08 to 1.95) for women and men, respectively. Working instead of taking sick leave when ill, was more prevalent in the group with a high incidence of sickness (OR 1.74 (1.30 to 2.33) for women, OR 1.60 (1.22 to 2.10) for men). Overtime work of more than 50 hours a year was linked with low incidence of sickness for women and men. Among women, 16% reported bullying at the workplace, which was linked with a doubled risk of high incidence of sickness (OR 1.91 (1.31 to 2.77)). For men, the strongest association was found for those reporting anxiety about reorganisation of the workplace (OR 1.93 (1.34 to 2.77)).
CONCLUSIONS—Certain physical, psychosocial, and organisational factors were important determinants of incidence of sickness, independently of each other. Some of the associations were sex specific.

Keywords: incidence of sickness; work environment; sex
PMCID: PMC1740107  PMID: 11171931
25.  Patterns of Sickness Absence in a Railway Population 
This investigation was carried out in order to obtain morbidity statistics in a large industrial population with special reference to the effects of ageing.
The population chosen, the “railway research population,” consisted of a sample of Scottish railwaymen, drawn from five of the eight areas in the Scottish Region of British Railways. Only certain occupational grades were studied.
Information was obtained over a period of one year by means of a detailed monthly return of (a) sickness absence data and (b) job changes. Indices of sickness absence were defined. The sickness absence experience of the railway research population was compared with that of other populations. It is a healthier group than the total insured population but differs in some respects from that of London Transport.
The nature of sickness absence within the railway research population was then studied. It was shown in all but one measure used that sickness tends to increase with age, the most important factor being the increase of long episodes. Examination of the frequency distribution of the duration of sickness episodes revealed that sickness absence tends to be taken in terms of weeks off rather than days off.
Analysis of the daily variation in sickness absence showed that the total absence rate increased from Monday to Friday. There was a well defined tendency for sickness to start on Mondays, and in longer episodes an additional tendency to start on Fridays. This was interpreted in terms of morale, both positive and negative.
Marked differences of the same order of magnitude as those due to age were noted in the sickness experience of the various grades, related to both conditions of work and responsibility.
The reasons for job changes were analysed and the grades to which men were transferred were identified. The choice of suitable grades for older workers was discussed.
It was concluded that working conditions might be important factors in the type of sickness absence experienced and that comparisons with other populations might be helpful in this context. More detailed work was also called for on the psychological as well as physical aspects of the work situation for both the individual and the grade.
PMCID: PMC1037951  PMID: 13851172

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